Woods story: D-day for buckthorn!

By John Peterson, Delano, MN

John & Mary with buckthorn brushpile
John & Mary with buckthorn brushpile

We have a 140 acre farm East of Delano with about 30 acres of a somewhat fragmented “Big Woods.” Last fall was the big start of removing the buckthorn from our woods. We cut and treated the stumps of all the large trees and all female trees with seeds. This work was done in October and November when it is really easy to spot because it is virtually the only living thing in the woods with green leaves. We spent the winter burning huge piles of buckthorn in nearby fields.

Common buckthorn leaves
Common buckthorn leaves

This happy story did have a slow start and here lies the point, don’t wait. If it is at all possible you have some, start your process of education of identification and removal now. We had heard about buckthorn about 5 years ago, but did not investigate and made an assumption that we did not have this in our beautiful woods. We learned from a friend of ours that we have some of it and then began, what I call a casual removal process..

My wife, Mary, and I became involved with the Woodland Advisor program early in 2008. We attended a landowner’s seminar last fall that included a field trip to Purgatory Park in Minnetonka. This program included two DNR Foresters and other subject matter experts. This was our wake-up call to the serious nature of buckthorn and we scoured every inch of our woods and even an area we call, “No mans land.” We found we had a BIG problem.

A trailer full of cut buckthorn!
A trailer full of cut buckthorn!

After 100 or more hours of hard work last fall, the most pristine parts of our woods are now mostly cleared. This spring we are hand digging small plants with a shovel now as it is the wrong time of year to treat stumps. We planted native shrubs such as serviceberry, red osier dogwood, and hazelnut this spring to replace the buckthorn.

Our goal is the total removal of this nasty plant. If you have buckthorn, this advice might help:

  1. Learn how to identify and remove.
  2. Find pleasure in the process.
  3. Replace with native shrubs and trees.
  4. Keep a weather-eye for what you missed and new growth.

Learn more about buckthorn identification and control from the Minnesota DNR – Division of Forestry or the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Thank you John for contributing the story and photos!  


Eli 's work addresses Minnesota forest ecology & management. He's based in St Paul.

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  1. My goal is to remove all the buckthorn I find in the forest at our cabin on Ottertail Lake. After spending hours and hours of pulling and digging, I realized I would not be able to accomplish this goal in one year. I finished only a fraction of the forest and next fall will work on the other part. The forest looks pretty bare, but I hope to plant some other shrubs this spring to fill out the forest. It’s a lot of work, but in the end I hope it’s worth it. Now if only all the neighbors would take care of their buckthorn, we could get rid of the problem.