Gardening question: bougainvillea removal
April 3, 2021 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Swapping out a bougainvillea vine trained into a tree for an actual tree (a 3'-4' pink dogwood, due to arrive this weekend), and extracting the vine's root system is a lot more complicated than I'd expected. This debacle is unfolding in a roughly 12' x 17' zone-10 garden, in a yard with pitiless western exposure. The bedding section is about 3' x 4'. And there's a sprinkler system.

Photographs w/measuring tape: pre-pruning session bougainvillea, from last May; the stump with assorted extracted roots; the current state of the planting area; close-ups, near that corner's central sprinkler head, of the remaining root system. The roots are thick; some are heading under the fence (beneath the neighbor's deck), and the rest are tunneling under this yard.

What can be done to keep the new dogwood safe from strangulation? The advice I've found online recommends concentrated glyphosate on freshly-cut bougainvillea roots, but a) see above about the neighbor's property and b) I'm worried I'll poison that entire corner of the yard and doom the blameless tree anyway. (I don't know of a way to apply the herbicide and then seal the application - I think seepage is inevitable as it works its way through the root?) I worry, too, that I'll damage the terra incognita sprinkler system (three heads in that corner, though one is capped) with too much digging and yanking. I have a few manual tools (shovel, pruners, four-prong cultivator), an electric weed trimmer, and a 3.4 amp hand saw. Thus far, I've used the shovel to break up the roots and pull the stump; it would be difficult to use the saw on thick, live roots and in that small space. Per the tree company: "If you need to wait a few days before planting, simply ensure your new plants are watered daily and stored in a shady area, protected from the elements." Thanks in advance for your advice.
posted by Iris Gambol to Home & Garden (4 answers total)
Does anyone you know have a weed wrench? Over the past year I've taken out lantana, golden rain trees, wisteria, bamboo and a bunch of other assorted dreck with The Uprooter. There's also The Extractigator. If you had a wrench you could keep digging and pulling, digging and pulling, loppering off sideroots as you went 'til you cleared enough of the area to plant your dogwood. When you've wacked the taproot the others will die off eventually. I've also heard you can put strong vinegar on the cut surfaces and kill them, but I'd rather just uproot any impudent upstarts as they show themselves. I had a giant trash tree taller than my house that I had removed and the root system kept trying to regenerate more trees, but I just kept uprooting them and finally--like two years later--it gave up trying. The remaining roots will eventually rot away and enrich the soil. Strongly support not putting glyphosate on anything ever ever ever.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:17 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]

I doubt Bougainvillea will regrow from roots cut off below the ground. If it does then encourage a nice patch of low growth and then spray that with Roundup.

There is a herbicide called " X-tree Basal ". I have used it on hundred of trees up to 1m trunk diameter. You paint it onto the stem above ground level, and the plant dies slowly over some months. It is not roundup, but it does not move thru the ground either.

Roundup / glyphosate won't do what you want as it works via foliage. It does not move thru soil in a way that will kill other plants.
posted by unearthed at 1:42 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]

Bougainvilleas absolutely HATE having their roots messed with in any way - I suspect that what you've done already is enough to have put the remainder in the ground into terminal shock. I personally would hack away just enough to make a nice wide planting hole and forget about the rest.
posted by DSime at 3:04 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ultimately, left the ground open for few days, drying out more of the root system for manual removal. Planted; new leaves! ('Hope' is the thing with feathers).
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:08 PM on April 30

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