Holly bushes are notoriously difficult to remove. If you leave even a piece of a root in the ground, it may re-sprout and soon you’ll have new holly bushes and potentially even more growth in different places than you started with.
Short of digging the entire root system up and pulling up the stump, is there an easier way to get rid of a holly bush? Here are some of the common treatment recommendations that you may hear:
Chemical Stump Killer
This is from my first-hand-experience – chemical treatment of the stumps with stump killer is not very effective. We cut down the holly bushes to the ground, drilled holes in the main stump, and applied stump killer. As you can see, the holly is definitely re-sprouting from its root system as well as the old stump.
This late summer and early fall has been particularly dry, so you would think that the added stress of drought would work in favor of killing off the holly. But hollies are extremely hardy shrubs. So I think it’s fair to say that this isn’t a very effective method for removing holly bushes, at least not quickly and without repeated applications of the stump killer.
There are several home remedies for the chemical treatment of holly stumps to kill of the roots. Much of this advice would also damage the soil around the stump, so if you’re planning on replanting the area, be very careful of what advice you take, and don’t do anything that sounds ‘too good to be true.’
For example, I’ve heard it suggested that pouring bleach and salt on the open stump and roots is a good method. This is not good advice if there is anything growing around the bushes that you wish to keep alive and/or if you plan to replant the area after the stumps are removed.
I’ve also heard of utilizing copper nails to kill off the shrub. The theory is that the copper will be drawn into the root system and eventually kill the remaining plant. It is doubtful that enough copper would be absorbed and transported into the plant and roots to kill it off. There is an excellent explanation of the chemistry here: http://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-2347,00.html
Perhaps in smaller trees, this would work, but it seems to me that hollies are just too persistent to succumb to small amounts of copper. If anyone has a different experience with this method and found it to be successful, please leave a comment on this post.
The fastest and surest way to remove a holly tree or bush is to dig it up. This isn’t the easiest thing to do, but even with repeated chemical treatments, it may take a while to kill it all without manually removing the plant.
Here are some tips to make it (a little) easier:
- Soak the ground around the stump to make it easier to remove from the soil. You may want to do this for a couple of days in advance. This helps if your weather has been particularly dry and the ground is rock hard.
- Dig all around the stump (about two feet away from the stump, moving inwards), loosening the soil
- Be sure to dig deep enough – the roots may be a foot or more into the ground. You’ll be able to tell how deep you need to dig by following the roots.
- Use an axe to cut any particularly stubborn roots, to make it easier to get the stump out. Try to get the root pieces out of the dirt though, to make sure they don’t re-sprout.
Although this is going to require a significant amount of physical labor on my part, my previous experience with removing holly bushes has taught me that this is the fastest and surest method to get rid of unwanted shrubs. Now that the weather is cooling off, this will be the next gardening task on my list. I want to put some raised vegetable beds in this location, so the hollies have to be removed first so that they don’t sprout up through my tomatoes. Wish me luck!