Tuesday, 13 October 2015

How to remove a gigantic Buddleia that is in the wrong place.

How many times have I been asked to deal with this problem?

"Lots", of course.

Buddleia are little devils for seeding everywhere ( a single plant can produce a million seeds, apparently), and the seedlings are so neat and innocuous that they are often overlooked by the garden owner. They also employ the cunning strategy of flowering really early in their lives, and the flowers are so lovely, and attract so many butterflies, that the garden owner is usually delighted to see them, and allows the plant to grow on.

And here lies the problem: when we plant something in our gardens, we choose where to put it, somewhere suitable for the eventual size of the plant, somewhere where it won't outgrow its welcome, but the self-set buddleia often plonks itself in entirely the wrong place for a large, fast-growing shrub which requires heavy-handed cutting every year.

Last week I was asked to dig out a Buddliea which had become massive, to the point where the Client couldn't see out of their window.

First job: get the loppers and take off as much of the top growth as you can, and get rid of it.

Second job: get the bowsaw, and saw the trunks down to about knee height. Make sure to take off as many side branches as you can - the idea is to be able to work all around it without being poked in the eye every five minutes.
Here is my stump, after initial clearing: there is one main trunk, on the left, and two smaller ones on the right, which were probably separate seedlings.

When you get to this stage, get out the knee pads or the kneeler, and a small trowel and small hand-fork or Daisy Grubber, and start excavating. Dig out a shallow bowl all around the roots, heaping the soil back out of the way - there's nothing more maddening than soil continually falling back into the hole you are trying to dig!

Once you have exposed the roots, you can see what you are dealing with.

In this case, the right-hand two stumps were easily severed with loppers, having gone down three bricks-worth in depth. They won't grow back from this depth.

With those two out of the way, I can now see the main stump more clearly.

As you can see, it's far too big to chop off, so I have to excavate a bit more.

However, I don't actually have to dig much deeper, I just have to clear all the soil away from the roots. Use a hand fork, or my favourite tool, the Daisy Grubber, to "pick" away all the soil.

You might be surprised to see how much soil comes away, and how what appeared to be a solid, massive root ball is actually only a central lump, supported on three or four thickish roots.
Here's a closer view of the very base of this stump, and now you can see that there is a "cave" underneath it: it's not solid at all.
To prove it, here is my Daisy Grubber, poking in past the big right-hand root and out the other side.
..and here it is, doing the same thing to the left, where there are just two roots holding the stump in place.

The loppers made quick work of those three roots: cut as low down in the soil as you can, and they should not resprout.

I don't know if you can see it clearly, but I have dug down three bricks-worth below the original soil level, so there is little chance that these roots will grow again.

Here is the stump in it's full glory, along with one of my gloves to give some sense of scale.

As I said, it's a massive stump, but it's not actually a massive root - just three main thickish roots, all of which were simply lopped off once I had removed enough earth to be able to see them clearly.

All that is left is a collection of root stumps.

Here is a barrow load of stump, and roots. Phew! Job done!

Hmmm, well not quite "job done" as I now have to fill in the hole, and refresh the soil by bringing in a barrow-load of our home-made compost, then digging over the whole area to de-compact it.

Then, next week, I can plant the new roses!



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  1. Excellent blog with lots of tips! Thanks. Wish me luck - I'm going to dig out mine this morning. I've pruned all the main branches back but am still left with a stump 6ft high and about 12 inches round!

    1. Thanks Karen, you are most welcome!

      Good luck with your stump, it sounds like a massive beasty: hopefully once you get started, you'll find that a lot of that main stump is actually quite brittle - with 6' of it to work with, you might find that rocking it to and fro will cause much of it to snap off!

      I'll be thinking of you...

    2. that was an excellent example removing your Buddlejia. Mine was a seedling, but I grew it into a standard. There is about 2.6ft of trunk and then as usual. It has looked nice this year (Only 18 months old). But despite dead-heading all the flowers are finished now. Also it has had leaves going yellow and dropping.
      advice please.

    3. I feel like a fraud for saying this, but it's been a funny year for weather.... last year we had endless drought, which was exhausting for all of us, flora and fauna (do we count as "fauna"?) (apparently no, we don't, we are mammals) alike. This year we had no less than four late frosts, with periods of very mild weather inbetween. Then, this summer so far, we've had a couple of wiltingly hot heatwaves, and a ton of rain.

      This is all very stressfull for plants, and it's not a surprise that many of them are under-performing.

      As a general rule, Buddleia are strong and tough, and can take whatever the world throws at them. You say that you have dead-headed, which is the right thing to do, as this normally provokes all the buds further up those dead-headed stems into life, so in a couple more weeks, you may well get a second flush of flowers. Meanwhile, if leaves are going yellow and dropping, it might need watering - 18 months is still a young plant - and it might benefit from some balanced feed.

      Hope this helps!

    4. Going to have a go at the first budd stump this afternoon. Feel more able now. X

  2. Thank you for this helpful article I have buddliea sprouting in several places so now I know what I will be doing this weekend.

    1. You are most welcome! It's much easier to get the little blighters out while they are tiny.....

  3. Thanks Rachel. Perfectly explaied and written. All other bloggers take note..

    1. How very kind! Thank you, I'm glad that my How To was helpful for you!

  4. Hi Rachel

    I've just moved a buddleia root which doesn't have a main brunch anymore, just lots of leaves sprouting out of various places. It was stuck under an apple tree and i'd chopped the main part down last year.

    Will it still grow into a flourishing buddleia or should I just buy a new one.


    1. Hi Laura,

      Honestly, I would throw it out, and buy a new one. It is hard to persuade an "old" Buddleia to grow in a shapely manner, and it is much, much easier to train a new one, by cutting it down savagely to ankle height every year.

      Plus, if you buy a new one, you can choose the colour!

    2. Plus, she said, realising that she hadn't actually answered the question... yes, the root which you dug up might well flourish if you replanted it quickly, and if it didn't dry out between being lifted and being replanted.

      However, if you had to do a lot of damage to the roots in order to extract it, then it would possibly die anyway.....

  5. Hi Rachel, I've just come across your post. I am about to remove a buddleia in order to lay a patio. (We have another large one in a better place so I don't feel too bad for the butterflies) Is there anything specific I would need to do to make sure it can't come back and trash the patio?!

    1. Hi Saz,

      No, not really: if you do pretty much as I did, in the photos, then it won't grow back.

      If laying a patio on top, it makes sense to remove as much of the root as you can: if you just chop off the top, the big woody root will die and rot, leaving a cavity under the slabs, which would be bad! So take a bit of time and get out as much as you can.

      And enjoy your lovely new patio, afterwards!

  6. I have just been sent this blog by my father in law, really helpful, thanks. My original idea was to burn it off, having dug down about 120cms.

    Might still do that...

    1. Hi John,

      Well, burning would certainly kill it, and would produce some potash to be dug into the soil... as long as you are careful not to set fire to other plants, of course!

      I'm pretty sure that if you've gone that far down, it won't regrow: so you could just saw it, or chop it with an axe, to get out the bulk of the bit you've already unearthed.

      Or, you could just set fire to it... and roast some sausages while you are there!

  7. SO the roots aren't actually that deep? Am wondering whether a Buddleja could be planted near to a septic tank...

    1. Hi Madra,

      In a sense, no: Buddleia roots are not extensive, or invasive, in the way that - for example - willow roots are. Plus, in my experience, they are a short-lived plant, so after a few years, the original root tends to die: anyone with an old Buddleia will tell you that they invariably have whole sections which are completely dead, and can be pulled away from the main plant.

      However, I wouldn't plant anything "too" close to a septic tank, because you never know if you are going to need access to it.

      I think that, if I had a septic tank that I wanted to screen with Buddleia, I would do so, but I would replace the plants every couple of years. As they self-seed all over the place, it's an easy job to pot up some seedlings every year, for later use.

      Hope this helps!

    2. When you say they are short-lived, does the whole plant die after a certain number of years or just sections of it that can be pruned off? Thanks

    3. Hi Madra,

      An interesting question!

      The answer is, "both", in a way: firstly, when I say that Buddleia are short-lived plants, I mean that compared to trees (20, 30, 50 years) a Buddleia may only live 10 years or so.

      And within that time, yes, sections of it will die off.

      The "wood" of Buddleia is very poor quality - it's brittle, which means that it is easily damaged by wind or weather. It's also soft, so once a branch breaks off, the rain gets in, and it will rot and then break further.

      And because it tends to grow with multiple trunks, the rain often drips down into the "fork" at the base, which then tends to rot. This is another reason why whole sections of the plant will sometimes just die off.

      So all in all, it's a bit of a nuisance of a shrub, but we forgive it because the flowers are so lovely, and are so very attractive to butterflies!

  8. Hi, digging out sounds good, but ours is coming through under the fence from our neighbours. We had to convince them to trim it, as it got very high!!
    Now it is taking over my bedding border the length of the fence. So what ever i put down will kill all. We did put some membrane down with pots on the top, to no avail, the budlia has gone mad, what can I do?????

    1. Oh dear, that's always an awkward situation.

      Generally speaking, you are within your rights to chop off anything which comes over or under your fence, so cutting them off is the first step.

      You've already spoken to the neighbours: I would suggest inviting them round to your side, to see just how invasive it is, then asking them to remove it. If they really want a Buddleia, ask them to buy a nice new one, and to plant it a few feet away from your joint fence.

      Hopefully, then, it won't be able to get under the fence and into your garden!

  9. Hello,we have had a very large Buddleia (now removed) that has been growing between two walls and has disrupted the top layer of next doors wall and brought down part of ours. Any advice on how to remove the remaining roots or at least remove enough of it so it doesn't re-grow please?

    1. Hi there,

      Well, it depends on how thoroughly the plant was removed: if you are lucky, the drastic removal will have killed it.

      But bearing in mind that these "infiltrating" plants are self-set, from seed, then there may well be more than one plant there: there may well be more seeds already sprouting, now that the big one has gone: and indeed, there is the chance that some of the roots might survive, and will re-grow.

      The simple answer is vigilance: check it every couple of weeks for signs of new growth, and either pull off every new shoot which you see, before it gets a chance: or spritz the new leaves carefully with weedkiller.

      Hope this helps!

  10. Hello Rachel,
    I found this post helpful, thank you. A lot of the advice online on stump removal seems to advocate the use of poison. In my limited experience (I've removed a self-seeded alder tree, and two self-seed elderberry bushes, all of which were in the wrong place), I've used something similar to your excavating approach. The approach seems to have been successful - and it's kinder to the environment!
    Following your systematic approach should save me time in future.
    Thanks again for a great post!

    1. You are most welcome,and I'm always happy to encourage ways of working which don't involve poison/chemicals.

      It's much kinder to the environment, as you say: and it's good exercise, too!


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