Grit Blogs > Tackling the Country Life

Olive Invasion

By Steve Daut


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Autumn Olive or Russian OliveAutumn Olive, a.k.a. Russian Olive, is the classic invasive, and one we have had to deal with on our new country property. It was first cultivated in Germany and imported to the U.S. in the late 1800s as an ornamental plant, where it has spread to nearly all of the central and western states. At first glance, it is an attractive bush or small tree with characteristic bladelike silver-backed leaves. In the spring it blooms with bright yellow flowers which are replaced by silvery-yellow berries.

Birds love the berries; it is browsed by deer and barked by rabbits. The berries are tart but edible, and some people make jelly or even wine out of them. This apparent attractiveness is part of what makes it a problem. It spreads from birds distributing the seeds, and through its root system. And uncontrolled, it will grow almost anywhere, and will out-compete almost anything in its path.  I have seen it grow up and choke out even well-established pines in a forest where the soil is so acidic almost nothing will grow. Once you begin to recognize it, you will see it everywhere.

Because it is spread by bird droppings, it can spring up almost anywhere, even where it has been recently eradicated. One plant is all it takes to get going, so annual inspections are needed to make sure it doesn’t re-establish itself. But if you cut it down, it grows lusher than before, and if you pull it out, any remaining root fragments will send up more shoots in the spring. So how do you rid yourself of this stuff?

I did a lot of research trying to determine the most effective treatment for a very large and well established stand of this attractive nuisance. Although I realize that some people eschew the use of herbicides, there seems to be no other current solution to dealing with this problem. Obviously, all recommended safety precautions should be followed when using these chemicals, and you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. So far, the program has proven to be very successful in eradicating the problem with no regrowth.

The program involves a multi-step approach. The first step is n the spring when the plants are actively growing, using a strong basal bark application of a triclopyr-based herbicide such as Garlon, Release or Brush-B-Gone. The benefit of this foliar herbicide is that it leaves grasses and conifer unaffected. We used a 20% solution of Garlon 4, soaking about 1 inch of each plant all the way around the base. There was no special preparation- we sprayed it right on the bark. This was highly effective against even well-established plants. On the smaller sprouts, the entire leaf system was covered.

The second step is in the early fall, after the heat of summer has abated somewhat and the plant is not growing. Cut the plants off at the base, and immediately daub the cut stump with a full-strength application of a glyphosate herbicide such as Rodeo, Roundup, or Tumblweed. Since this is a non-selective herbicide, it will kill anything it touches so extreme care should be taken with the application.

After this, it’s best to revisit the area every spring to check for sprouts, and pull them out or treat them again with triclopyr. This approach is very aggressive, and may be impractical or cost prohibitive in very large applications, but it has worked well for us. If anyone else has had success with another less aggressive approach or one is less reliant on herbicides, I’d love to hear about it.

kc compton_2
2/2/2009 12:01:11 PM

I'm so sorry it's invasive. I have such a special place in my heart for this shrub (tree?). When I lived in New Mexico, I used to ride my bike as often as my time and the weather permitted and I will always remember the places on several of my rides where I would crest a hill and just about be overcome with that Russian Olive fragrance. We have some on the eastern boundary of our office here and when they're blooming, I get a whiff and am instantly transported to the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountains and the joy of being on my bike. I love the idea of using them to make ethanol. There are so many species like that that are amazing growers and don't need a lot of inputs to get going. This makes so much practical sense ... --KC


cindy murphy
12/26/2008 9:22:24 AM

Autumn Olive - a classic case of an "exotic" gone wild; like the multi-flora rose and glossy buckthorn, the very reason it was imported is the reason it's invasive here: its easy propagation and indestructability. We used to sell it at the nursery when I first started working there eight years ago. It wasn't long after - not even a season if I remember correctly - that it made Michgigan's invasive species list. I remember reading of a stand so thick and out-of-control in the Detroit area that it threatened to take over one of the public parks, (Metro maybe? Belle Isle?). Once it made the list, the two remaining shrubs left at the nursery - huge things, a testiment to its speedy growth rate - became brush-pile fodder. But these specimens were container grown - burning them was easy. Try to burn a stand in the ground, and like cutting Autumn Olive, it'll just grow back thicker than before. I haven't heard of any other way to eradicate it, Steve, other than herbicides. I have heard though, of people keeping it under control, (at least from spreading to other areas), by diligent pruning. Prune heavily right after it flowers, and the berries won't have a chance to form, eliminating the plant being spread by birds and animals. Good luck, Steve. As an interesting side note: Studies are being done to determine the feasiblity of Autumn Olive being used to make ethanol. Because of its fast growth rate and ability to rejuvenate quickly after cutting, it's thought that it may be more cost effective than planting corn year after year.