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My Family Just Bought A House In August And The…

Renee Asked

My family just bought a house in August and the yard was severely overgrown. We noticed on the property a lot of these plants that had thorns all over them, and they break off very easily and they hurt. We thought if we waited for winter to come it would help us out by killing them off, but while everything else in the yard died they seem to be doing well. I noticed smaller plants with thorns on then that are red. There are also trees in our yard that have thorns on the branches.

The Gardener’s Answer

Hello, Renee: Identifying deciduous plants is more difficult during the winter months without the foliage, but with the information you offered here are a few thoughts. The climbing vine with thorns is most likely Smilax, commonly known as greenbriar. This woody plant can become prolific if left alone, spreading by runners and seeds. Usually semi-evergreen in Kentucky, it produces black berries in the late summer/early fall. Pyracantha and wild climbing rose are other possibilities. A positive identification is necessary in terms of control, but if it is indeed Smilax you will need to be aggressive in your approach. If this is growing in an area that is all weeds it will be easier than trying to get rid of it in a garden. Ideally you want to cut all the vines back to the ground and then either dig up the roots or spot spray with RoundUp. Obviously digging them up is more environmentally conscious but this may not be feasible. RoundUp is a non-selective herbicide so be careful when spraying if you have other plants in the area that you do not want to loose. As for the thorny trees I would suspect that you have either honey or black locust. Both have thorns but are distinctly different in characteristics. The honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) has thorns that are mainly found on the trunk and lower branches. They can reach 3-6 inches long and turn reddish in color as they mature. They are commonly found in clusters. The Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) thorns are much smaller and not in clusters. This being said, I cannot say for certain without a picture so you are welcome to send pictures to or you can always take a sample to your County Cooperative Extension Service for identification. The Webster County offices are located at 1118 US Highway 41A South in Dixon. The phone number is (270) 639-9011.

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