Fall is generally the best time to control perennial weeds. Perennials are moving sugars from above-ground sinks – in particular foliage – to underground sinks – rhizomes and roots, for example. for overwintering. In order to kill perennial weeds, these underground sinks must be destroyed.
Fall offers other benefits as well – cooler weather, less dense foliage, and fewer bugs!
What is the best way to kill invasive perennials? Several rules hold. Apply herbicide only to living tissue. Perhaps that’s obvious. That can be green leaves or stems or vascular tissue.
Since most people are probably least familiar with vascular treatment methods, I will discuss those. One method is to do a cut stump application. With this method a weed tree is cut down and herbicide is applied to the cut-surface of the stump. For most homeowners who used water-based herbicides, you should apply the herbicide soon after the cut is made. (There is debate about how soon but I try to do it within a few minutes if possible.) Two keys to this method are: first, make the cut as close to the ground as possible (e.g., 2 to 3 inches if possible); second, make sure you apply herbicide to the outer edge of the stump just inside the bark. This will ensure herbicide gets introduced into the phloem which will carry the herbicide into the root system.
Another method is a frill application where the tree is left standing and cuts are made into the bark of the tree. Use a knife or chisel on smaller trees and a hatchet on larger trees to make the cuts. Apply herbicide to the exposed vascular tissue. These cuts should be made as close to the ground as possible. Of the two methods, I find the cut-stump method to be the most effective. However, the frill method probably takes less work especially when you are dealing with big trees.
For green-stemmed perennial weeds, I use a slightly different method. I bend the stem near the ground and apply the herbicide at the bend. For some reason, this method works better than just cutting off the stem. I don’t know why. This technique can be often be used even after the leaves are nipped by frost as long as the stem is still green.
For all these methods, use a concentrated herbicide mixture. For example, if I am using a glyphosate-based herbicide, I typically use a concentration of about 35 % active ingredient.
There are a number of benefits to these methods of application. First, they are very effective. Second, they protect the environment. The methods allow for very targeted applications.