Updated: Sep 27
It's officially February! Imbolc was just a few days ago, meaning that the return of Spring is just around the corner. While you might be antsy to get your hands back in the dirt, hold off on clearing out your garden just yet. A few days of warm weather might convince you that Winter is over, but I assure you the temperatures will drop again. Little seedlings, hibernating insects, and other important garden friends are still hiding from the cold under fallen leaves. So, you can't clean up leaves, you can't plant seeds, and you can't get a start on that new project...but I do have good news! For those of you who just need to scratch that itch (like me), here are some Winter gardening activities you can do right now to actually help your garden's Spring success.
First, you're gonna need some tools. Trust me on this one.
At the very least, you'll need a thick set of working gloves and heavy-duty pruning shears.
A long-reaching tree-pruner (top) comes in handy but is not a necessity. Machetes (bottom) are also helpful but extremely sharp and dangerous so only use one if you are strong enough and coordinated enough to do so safely. Next, you're going to want to wear some thick-soled & closed-toed shoes. Throw on an old pair of jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and get ready for business.
If your yard has been neglected all Summer and Fall (or for years like ours), chances are high you're going to find vines. A LOT of vines. Spikey vines, swirly vines, poisonous vines, berried vines, and leafy vines. You name it, they're gonna be there and Winter is the best time to spot them. Although these vines might be a nice barrier plant between you and the neighbor, they are often doing a lot more harm than good. Like a boa constrictor, vines will creep up tree trunks and wrap around tightly constricting the movement of vital water and nutrients. As they climb, they begin to cause trouble for branches, and eventually, their leaves will compete for sunlight at the very top.
Invasive vines like Kudzu and Wisteria are taking over entire forests in North America. These vines, when left to their own devices, are often destructive and kill out any native species that once thrived there. These vines are so aggressive, they will grow on absolutely anything including your house. Others, like this pesky vine below, are self-explanatory.
Now that we have identified the problem, there are a few available plans of attack. The first one you'll find on the internet is to invest in harsh chemical pesticides that are horrible for the environment and surrounding plants. If you really want to go this route, I suggest using Triclopyr which can be painted in small amounts onto a severed vine opening.
The second option is certainly more labor-intensive but worth it in the end.
How To Get Rid Of Vines
STEP 1: Locate the bottom of the vine and cut leaving about 10 inches sticking out of the ground. I like to cut the vines again so there is approximately a 2-foot gap between the remaining hanging vine and the ground vine. Pull up smaller vines as you are able.
STEP 2: Using your hands, pull up as much of the vine root system as you can. Using a shovel here is helpful, just be careful not to hit the tree or shrub roots. Simply cutting the vines back without removing the roots is not going to stop them from coming back.
STEP 3: Wait a few weeks for the vines still left on the tree to completely die and turn brown. Once they are dead, they will be easier to remove. If you are feeling up for it, go around cutting the vines in various connecting places to make the future removal go smoother.
STEP 4: Begin pulling the dead vines off of the tree gently. If vines have curled around the trunk/branches too tightly, you might want to cut the vine into sections and unravel it manually. The goal is to get the vines off without causing more damage to the trees they are infecting.
STEP 5: Repeat as needed throughout the year until the invasion is gone.
Some Important Warnings:
Be aware that the vine system could be holding up large tree branches like a net. When the net comes down, so does everything else. Always be aware of your surroundings and always check to make sure animal nests/ hornet nests are not going to be disturbed during the process.
Do NOT burn vines after collecting. Poison Ivy will be present most likely within your pile. Most vines won't burn much anyway but poison ivy can get into the smoke and seriously harm you. Imagine poison ivy in your eyes or lungs. Also understand that poison ivy might be on your pants, jacket, and gloves. Wash well before wearing again. Always wash your hands before touching bare skin.
Vines like Greenbrier are needle-sharp. Even with gloves on you can seriously injure yourself. Always use caution and be careful what you grab.
Do not yank on the vines so hard that you are breaking branches or bending trunks. The purpose of this activity is to SAVE your ecosystem, not bring further harm to it.
Best of luck & be safe!