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Kudzu Attacks Mississippi's Top Natural Resource
By Jennifer Miller
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Timber production brings millions of dollars into Mississippi each year. But unfortunately, pine trees are falling victim to an unlikely predator -- kudzu.
Malcolm Montgomery, a Claiborne County resident, knows the damage kudzu can cause.
"I have 200 acres of seven-year-old pine trees that are planted next to a patch of kudzu," he said. It is difficult to control and if it is not stopped, it will eventually kill the pines."
Dr. Andy Ezell, an extension forestry specialist at Mississippi State University, said kudzu is an incredibly aggressive, persistent weed.
"It can grow up to one foot a day and 60 feet per growing season," he said. "The old patches take a minimum of five years and a maximum of seven to 10 years to get rid of. Even then, the roots can sit there for two to three years before resprouting."
Claiborne County agent Cliff Covington said most people make two major mistakes when trying to get rid of kudzu.
"First, they tend to wait too long before attempting to control it. And second, they are not persistent enough in their control methods," Covington said.
Ezell said some people plant their pine seedlings in the midst of the kudzu or next to a patch of kudzu.
"Unfortunately, within a short period of time a plantation of trees can become a kudzu patch," he said.
Montgomery agreed that it takes a lot of work to keep his pine trees kudzu free.
"I usually have to clip and spot-spray the kudzu every year," he said. "One year, I didn't do anything and it quickly got out of control."
Chemical treatments are the most successful ways to control the kudzu. Although the cost of using chemicals can be as much as $100 per acre for young patches and several $100 per acre for older patches, there are no other alternatives.
"Either control it, or grow it and lose the land for timber production," Ezell said.
Appropriate control strategies and chemicals will vary depending on whether the kudzu is an open patch, tree drape, near water, in young pines or under older trees.
If the kudzu is layered to a depth of six feet or more, it should be considered an older patch," Ezell said. "The chemicals and application technique used are the same no matter what the age of the patch is. But with patches that are more than 10 years old, the rate of chemical usage doubles."
Ezell said that application costs can be more than the chemicals themselves depending on the situation.
"Correct application techniques are critical in the control of kudzu," he said. "Adequate coverage and making sure every leaf is thoroughly wet is essential."
Ezell said one treatment is rarely enough. Retreatment is almost always necessary for success.
"If you are not willing to continue to treat it, all efforts will be wasted. People have to have an aggressive attitude toward the plant or the kudzu will take control," he said.
Covington said that as far as a non-herbicide control method, pasture clippers have also been utilized.
"This method is usually not effective because of the fast growth rate of kudzu," he said. "Weekly, or biweekly mowings are required to achieve any control success."
Livestock can provide effective control of kudzu.
"In several instances, cattle and/or goats have totally eliminated kudzu from entire farms," Covington said.
But Ezell said many problems arise when animals run out of kudzu, and feed has to be bought to keep the animals fed.
"Eventually, the cost of fencing around the kudzu, plus the cost of feed, equals the cost of spraying. Although it is a viable alternative, it is definitely not the answer," he said.
Ezell said if kudzu control is not increased, each year more land will in the state will become covered.
"The key to successfully controlling kudzu is dedication. Don't start and then quit. You have to be totally committed for it to work," he said.