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Best Time of Year to Remove Buckthorn

buckthorn plant

As winter approaches, you may think your outdoor projects are done for the year, but if you have buckthorn removal on your list of chores, late fall and early winter are great times to get it done.

Why is Buckthorn Bad?

There are many reasons this invasive, non-native shrub is better taken out than left to take over our native woodlands.

  • Out-competes native plants for nutrients, light, and moisture

  • Degrades important wildlife habitat and food sources

  • Can host pests, such as crown rust fungus and soybean aphids

  • Contributes to erosion by out-competing plants on the forest floor that help hold soil in place

  • Forms an impenetrable, messy layer of vegetation

  • Seeds can stay viable in the soil for up to three years

What does Buckthorn Look Like?

The characteristics of buckthorn include:

  • Egg-shaped leaves that stay green into late fall (even after all other trees have lost their leaves)

  • Large, round berry-like clusters of black ¼-inch fruit (on female trees)

  • Bark is brown with elongate silvery corky projections, similar to native plums or cherries.

  • Cut branch exposes yellow sapwood and orange heartwood

  • Heights of up to 25 feet tall

How to Remove Buckthorn in the fall?

There are several different ways you can remove your buckthorn, depending on what the plants look like, and how dense they are on your property. It's important to note, however, that regardless of how you remove the buckthorn from your yard, you must follow up next season(s) for additional removal if necessary. Buckthorn is tricky; it's seeds can stay viable in the ground for up to FIVE years.

Removing Small Clusters


For small clusters of buckthorn--stem diameter being 2 inches wide or less--rip them up by hand or with a buckthorn removal tool like the one orange one pictured. Be sure to rip up the entire stem and root system. Simply cutting the stem at the ground level will still allow buckthorn's tough roots to continue growing.

Good news! Getting a hold of one of these wrenches is easy. The Scott SWCD has buckthorn wrenches available to rent in Scott County, MN. Wrenches can be rented from our Equipment Rental Page. All small equipment rentals require a $50 deposit that will be refunded when the equipment is returned undamaged.

Removing Large Bushes

For Buckthorn that has grown to be larger then 2 feet in diameter, the buckthorn wrenches aren't built with enough force behind them to excavate such large clusters on it's own. To successfully remove them, it must be cut on it's base at the soil surface. Cutting can happen with a chainsaw, an axe, or a handsaw; whatever you have available. Once the base of the plant is removed, treat the stump with herbicide to kill the root systems below.

The Buckthorn's Gone... What next?

Now that your pesky buckthorn is out of the way, it's time to plant something beautiful! Think about replacing that now open space with Minnesota Native Trees and Shrubs. The Scott SWCD hosts a native tree sale every year. Visit for an up-to-date list of available trees, and to be updated with our sale begins.

Minnesota native trees and bushes

If you want to learn more about invasive species removal or replacement trees and shrubs, contact the Scott Soil and Water Conservation District in Jordan, MN at (952) 492-5425.

Some information adapted from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources web article on buckthorn and buckthorn removal.


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