The correct weeding implement to remove a finger-sized “Tree of Heaven” sapling is a shovel.
I thought I’d learned that lesson two summers ago, when I foolishly bragged here that I hadn’t seen any new ailanthus altissima seedlings poking above my lawn. But by this June, I had a new crop of these trash-tree growths invading the front yard and part of the side yard.
This time around, I dug deeper, literally. Just yanking out the massed roots below each sapling wasn’t enough; I had to drive the shovel a few inches deeper to find the thicker, trunk-like root running below my lawn. And then work backwards and forwards to rip that out of the earth.
The upside of this dirt-under-fingernails work is, I hope, a more lasting end to this weed of a tree. And so far, that’s worked–in the sense that I haven’t seen new growths in the front yard two and a half weeks after this surgery. (The side yard is another story, but at least that’s not obvious from the street.)
The downside is that unless you do this root removal right before a torrential downpour, the grass you’ve removed probably won’t survive the disruption. In my case, I now have streaks of dead grass, that outline where this invasive tree’s roots had taken up residence in my yard.
You could say I had to destroy the lawn in order to save it. But I’m not going to state that conclusively until this time next summer, when I’m past the spring’s usual foolish lawncare optimism.
If I’m twisting loose chickweed with a weeding fork, it could be February but it shouldn’t be later than April, lest I waste my efforts on plants that have already gone to seed. Pungent deadnettles come about a month later. followed by crabgrass.
And from late spring on, I can expect to see Ailanthus altissima saplings invade the front yard. “Tree of Heaven,” my ass: This invasive, quasi-viral plant grows like a weed, literally stinks, and spreads with zombie-like persistence.
Clawing out one of our worst imports from Asia requires advanced stubbornness. Plucking a shoot out of the lawn is easy but leaves a densely-coiled root that will send more growths aboveground within days.
You have to shove a trowel underneath it, elevate a clump of lawn, then feel through the dirt for that root mass and then tug it loose. Done right, you’re left with a long stretch of subterranean subversive that can no longer make a nuisance of itself.
I want to think I’ve seen results this summer, in the form of patches of lawn that haven’t sprouted new ailanthus shoots in weeks (but do show the collateral damage of bare spots that I’ll have to re-seed in the fall). It may seem like an endless task, but it can’t be as futile as trying to evict our single worst import from across the Pacific, the tiger mosquito. Right?