Thursday, April 21, 2011

Inside Looking In: Landscaping in a Target-Rich Environment

Kudzu. When I moved here, I was disturbed at the sight of roadside trees taken over by the stuff. It's simply everywhere, and once it gets a foothold it can't be stopped. Supposedly, it's edible - but if demon flesh were edible, I wouldn't want to eat that either, for many of the same reasons.

This is Jeremy again, guest-posting and giving a little perspective. Kudzu seems so ubiquitous that I think you all need an outsider's point of view to really understand the thing you all seem happy enough to live with. When I tell people that I'm trying to get rid of the kudzu patch next to our house, they tell me with all the saged wisdom of the Oracle of Delphi that it simply can't be done. And I tend to agree, in the end: it grows by about a foot and a half hourly, so any progress you make is, ultimately, temporary at best.

Target-rich environment (n): when you can't swing a cat without hitting something that needs to die
Kudzu. It's mentioned several times as a force of unstoppable evil in the book Monster Hunter International (which I just finished, and recommend to anyone not put-off by the title). The author equates it with zombies and ghouls, except that the zombies and ghouls can be killed.

It's an incredible vine, from a neutral perspective. It grows aggressively, and its vines are strong. You can dry them and weave it into wicker baskets. Let it grow a week and you can weave an entire house, and all the furniture to go inside it. Not for nothing is it called "the vine that ate the South". To locals, it's a force of nature, just like ice in winter and storms in spring. Kudzu rules the summer, and to most people, you're better off just accepting that.

I haven't lived here long enough to give up, though. Ever since we bought our house two summers ago, I've been waging holy war against the unholy vine. The first front of attack was the lawnmower: over a couple months that first summer, I reclaimed about 30 square feet of yard space. No small accomplishment, if you ask me. I celebrated a little bit the first time I located the home root of a large vine complex (the cursed thing sprouts new roots along its length, but there's surely benefit to uprooting the original). Digging the root up was almost enough to make me give up entirely. The root is ten times stronger than the vine, and it went at least three feet deep into the ground.

Over the winter I went a little farther, pulling trailing vines out of the trees, but in the end that made no discernible difference at all. Still, by spring I had pushed it back far enough that Katie was able to spy the blossoms of a pear tree somewhere in the interior. I had my goal.

All last summer I worked my way to that tree, and by August I had it mostly uncovered. Unfortunately, there were living vines in the treetop itself; I despaired of ever rescuing it. By autumn, though, I had the nearby ground mostly cleared of kudzu. This spring, my goal has been to (1) kill and cut down any vines reaching the tree from the ground or other plants; and (2) kill and cut down the nearby growth so as to better display the lovely pear tree to our neighbors and prevent any new vines from making the leap across the gap.

To this end, I bought some nicer gardening tools this spring. The chief among these was a hedge trimmer, quite handy for snipping overhead vines and, as I found out, very useful for making my way through the curtains of kudzu between myself and the trunks of the bush/tree things I need to cut down. That's how I spent most of this afternoon: cutting away small growth with the hedge trimmers, then taking out the source with a fireman's axe (which was a gift not for gardening but zombie preparedness - but it's doing double-duty).

Today, the kudzu patch is smaller than ever, but it hasn't yet begun its true summer growth. Just a few early explorers, to see if the coast is clear (it isn't). But this victory has not been without cost: my nice hedge trimmers broke an important rivet on their way through the thick kudzu, and now they no longer work (and I can't seem to replace it with a bolt, it needs a very low-profile head). If I don't manage to fix it or find a replacement soon, there's no telling what kind of progress the Kudzu will make. 

I don't doubt for a minute that this is the very chance it's been waiting for: tonight, the invasion will begin in earnest. I am not dismayed. Tomorrow, I spray the whole area down with a strong dose of herbicide. Even if all I have left is a handheld shovel and a dull knife to hold dramatically in my teeth, I'll never stop hating and trying to kill kudzu. Unfortunately, even if I had a flamethrower and an industrual chainsaw, I'd never be able to stop kudzu from hating and trying to kill me.


  1. Holy! I had no idea about this monster. I think I saw a Twilight Zone movie that had something similar though. Good luck keeping it in check!

  2. Dude, my husband could have written this EXACT post...well, except replace "Kudzu" with "wild grape vines" and "pear" with "apple". He actually had to use a machete last summer just so he could *look* into our woods. It was insane!

  3. It keeps people out of your yard. That is a plus.

  4. Grape vines take over my yard. I paid someone last fall to try and regain my yard from them and hopefully now I can keep on top of it (doubtful).

  5. I wonder if Kudzu grew here in upstate NY, the Deer would eat it, along with everything else they mow down.

    We have an extremely noxious plant called Giant Hogweed that rears its pretty, but deadly, head every year. Called "Queen Anne's Lace on Steroids", it can grow over 15" tall. Its sap, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness.

    People have attempted to kill it by pulling it out of the ground and have suffered severe reactions; a few numbskulls have even tried burning it.

    Enjoyed your post and wishing you good luck with the Battle of the Vines!


  6. We have ivy that is taking over and worse than that poison ivy! My hubby is waging a fierce battle over that!

  7. What an awesome adventure, but honestly, I love to drive past and see the "forest" of it all lining the interstate.

    Good luck, my friend, I do believe those evil vines have met their match in you. :)

  8. Wait - Kudzu is edible? I'm in NC and know exactly what you mean. It just will not die. Didn't someone originally bring it over from another country? I think I remember reading that somewhere.

  9. I remember when I lived in Georgia that Kudzu was everywhere! I know it is evasive, but to me it is pretty! Have a great holiday weekend!


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