Fighting Japanese Honeysuckle and Wild Grape Vine

The last few days this week were perfect to attack the vines of Japanese Honeysuckle and wild grape.  That is, temperatures were in the low 40s and the sun was bright so it was comfortable to be outside.  Any time when you have those conditions during the winter is an opportune time to address these invasive plants.  The only tools you need are a good pair of hand clippers and a good set of work gloves.

First of all, let me concede that wild grape vine is not an invasive but when I’m working in areas that are undergoing forest regeneration, I want to give maximum opportunity for young trees to reach maturity and therefore focus on removing both of these vines from young trees. Japanese Honeysuckle is particularly insidious because it will wrap itself around the trunk of a tree and given enough time will eventually strangle the tree, killing it.  Please note, I do not use any herbicide in this process.  The process, however, will no doubt require multiple year interventions, but with each succeeding year, the problem diminishes to the point that once the trees achieve sufficient height and density, Japanese Honeysuckle ceases to be an issue. It may still be present on the forest floor but the lack of sunlight prevents it from sending out its vines during the growing season.

The process then is simply to cut the vines at the base of the tree and then remove the vine growth from the tree itself.  This may involve some pulling and tugging to remove as much of the vine matter as possible but it’s not a problem if some vines remain on the tree. They’ll eventually decay and drop off.  In areas that have been left untouched for a number of years (I’m currently working an area that was last mowed twelve years ago) there is the potential for lots of young trees to be emerging.  While I had removed bush honeysuckle and autumn olive from this area previously, I had not tackled the vines so there were areas with a dense thick mat of vines that had to be removed.  I feel it is important to remove vine vegetation as low as possible to the ground and to clear out areas that have a dense mat of vines. I also cut back blackberry canes because in many instances the canes can become quite tall and serve as conduits for vining Honeysuckle to reach into trees.  In areas where I have cleaned out the vine mats and undergrowth, I’m always impressed at how “open” the forest becomes.  I also can’t help but think that the trees that I’ve “freed up” are quietly giving “sighs” of appreciation (an aspect of their “hidden life”).


– Stan Sells


  1. Nancy Stranahan

    Dear Stan, Thanks for your stories and your effort. I have had good luck cutting and unwinding Japanese honeysuckle off trees as well. Sometimes only once is needed to give the young trees a chance to jump upward above the vines’ reach. Sometimes I have to do it 3-4 times. I don’t use herbicide either. It would be way to time consuming. Sometimes I have had to cut grapevines back the same way. I don’t like doing it because the grapevine is better for wildlife than the tree, but I feel we have to get the canopy established or the invasives will pour in. Cutting back the grapevines just for a few years, can get those trees up into the sky.

    Next year we will experiment here at Ridgeview Farm to see if we can get the Japanese honeysuckles out of the fencerows. The vine creeps across the fields at rates of several feet a year. At this rate, none of our fields are sustainable grassland habitats. We have to figure something out if we want to maintain meadows longterm for grassland birds.

  2. Mark Miller

    Honeysuckle is one of the most important plants in this area for honey bees. Honey bee populations have declined over recent years and need all the help they can get as they are very important pollinators.


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