Applying herbicides in a controlled manner can be an effective and low-cost treatment to eliminate or control unwanted vegetation. Situations where vegetation can be controlled with herbicides include:

Controlling unwanted vegetation with herbicides can accomplish several forest management goals. These goals can complement your forestland use objectives and provide multiple benefits. For example:

  1. Using herbicides for chemical site prep or for a seedling release can significantly improve survival and growth of new tree seedlings. Weeds, grasses, vines and other vegetation can severely inhibit tree seedlings during the early years after establishment. By using herbicides your tree seedlings will essentially be given a jump-start on growth, which can accelerate the return on your financial investment of owning and managing the forestland. On cleanly-logged sites, a chemical site prep prescription may offer an alternative to, or supplement, the use of tractors or bulldozers that mechanically clear and remove leftover trees and shrubs. The use of mechanical site prep methods may still be needed to till the soil and improve soil drainage prior to planting seedlings.
  2. By applying herbicides to reduce understory vegetation in an existing stand of timber the growth of the remaining trees can increase, as they have more sunlight, growing space and soil nutrients available. In addition, the wildfire hazard may be reduced after eliminating potential fuel loading once the treated vegetation breaks down. The reduction of understory trees or shrubs also allows sunlight to more easily reach the ground surface and promote the growth of low-growing succulent vegetation that can offer a greater abundance or diversity of food, forage and cover for wildlife.

In most situations for forestry use, herbicides are not intended to completely denude the landscape of vegetation forever. Rather, herbicides temporarily control or suppress unwanted vegetation, allowing the desirable tree seedlings a better opportunity to establish, grow and obtain soil nutrients and/or sunlight.

Before conducting herbicide work on your forest, take note of these important considerations:

  1. Herbicide prescriptions can only be made by a licensed professional — see note below.
  2. Individuals who apply herbicides, called applicators, must be licensed — see note below.
  3. Herbicide chemicals must be approved for forestry-use (known as having a “forestry label”).
  4. The handling and application procedures described on the product’s label must be followed.
  5. Comply with the appropriate water quality regulations, and use Best Management Practices (BMPs).

NOTE: A landowner is not required to have a herbicide applicator’s license for prescribing or applying herbicide to his or her own land. A license is required for an individual who prescribes the use of or applies herbicide on another person’s land.

Herbaceous Weed Control

The term “herbaceous weed control” is often used when making herbicide prescriptions for forestry, and you may see it abbreviated as HWC. This term refers to the use of herbicides to control and/or eliminate weeds, grasses and other non-woody vegetation. Usually HWC is one component of a chemical site prep prescription, or is the desired outcome when conducting a seedling release prescription. Implementing HWC is especially vital for the successful establishment and survival of tree seedlings on old fields or pastures.

Woody Control (or Release)

This term refers to the use of herbicide to control competing woody-stemmed trees and shrubs that inhibit the growth of young, desirable tree seedlings. This use of herbicide therefore “releases” the seedlings from the surrounding competing vegetation.

Herbicide Categories

Herbicides generally fall within one of two categories. A pre-emergent herbicide is applied to the soil before the unwanted vegetation can germinate. The herbicide is formulated to disrupt the germination process or kill the vegetation as it germinates from its seed. A post-emergent herbicide is applied to the foliage and/or the soil, and is used when unwanted vegetation already exists on the tract. Some herbicides can function as a pre-emergent or post-emergent herbicide.

Herbicide Activation

Herbicides are activated in vegetation by one of two main pathways. Some herbicides can be activated through both foliar and soil pathways.

Foliar activated
Herbicide must make direct contact with the foliage to be activated.
Soil activated
Herbicide can be applied to the soil so the plant’s roots can uptake the herbicide.

Herbicide Treatments

There are different herbicide treatment methods used in forest management:

Herbicide is applied to the entire area that is being treated.
A type of broadcast treatment in which herbicide is only applied within a narrow band, usually immediately along where tree seedlings are going to be, or have been, established. Injection: Herbicide is injected directly into standing trees using special hand tools.
Hack & Squirt
A hatchet or other tool is used to scrape off a tree’s bark and encircle the tree trunk. Herbicide is then sprayed directly upon the exposed tree trunk, in the area where the bark has been scraped or hacked away (this method is similar to “frill & spray”).
Cut Surface
Herbicide is applied directly to a freshly cut stump or onto a severed stem of a tree.
A thin, directed stream of herbicide is applied to the outer bark of a small diameter tree.

Herbicide Application Methods

Applied by a helicopter.
Applied by equipment that is mounted upon a tractor, crawler-dozer, ATV, or log-skidder.
Applied by individuals through the use of back-pack tanks, spray bottles, or hand-held tanks.

To learn how to apply herbicides using hand-held equipment, refer to publication AG-530, Accomplishing Forest Stewardship with Hand-Applied Herbicides, available from the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.


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Published in January 2010

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