Kudzu is a perennial invasive vine first introduced to the United States from its native Asia in 1876. For a long time, it was viewed as a “wonder plant"—in fact, in the 1930s, the government paid landowners in the southeastern United States $8 per acre to plant kudzu for erosion control and cattle grazing.
Little did they know, kudzu would pose a big problem. It is a highly invasive species that has a tendency to smother other vegetation, including native plants. The kudzu vine grows quickly and can reach up to 100 feet in length, crawling into the crown of the tallest trees and depriving them of light, choking them, or making them collapse from sheer weight. It can also engulf man-made structures such as power lines, road signs, and buildings.
It was estimated in 2001 that kudzu covers more than five million acres of forest land, which is more than five times the size of the state of Rhode Island. Kudzu can mainly be found in the southeastern United States but has also been reported in northern states like Pennsylvania. It can thrive and establish itself year-round in most locations. For homeowners, it is crucial to identify and control kudzu early on—once it has taken hold, it's very difficult and lengthy to eradicate.
|Botanical Name||Pueraria montana var. lobata|
|Common Name||Kudzu, East Asian arrowroot|
|Mature Size||Up to 100 feet length|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Hardiness Zones||5–10 (USDA)|
Invasiveness of Kudzu
Kudzu spreads primarily through runners, rhizomes, and vines, though it can also be dispersed through seeds. An established kudzu plant can add up to 1 foot in length per day and overgrows anything in its way, blocking sunlight and depriving nearby plants of water and nutrients until they die. It girdles tree trunks and can break branches and whole trees due to its immense weight.
Kudzu develops a huge taproot up to 6 feet long, which alone can weigh close to 400 pounds. The vine is mainly found on non-cultivated land such as in abandoned fields, ditches, and along roadsides. However, that does not mean it won't pop up in your yard, especially in larger properties with open space or woods.
How to Remove Kudzu
Unfortunately, there aren't any quick or easy ways to get rid of kudzu—that is, unless you keep goats or sheep on your property, as they love to eat the vine. Most herbicides, including those with glyphosate as the active ingredient (Roundup), have a limited effect on the plant, and only when it's fairly small. Kudzu is also fire-resistant, so burning the roots will only weaken the plant, not eradicate it. There are two different mechanical ways to tackling a kudzu infestation—above ground and below ground—and both require diligence and persistence.
Above ground, start by cutting the vines at ground level, then follow your efforts up with the regular mowing or hand-cutting of any emerging shoots until there is no more new growth. Kudzu is weakened over time by repeated defoliation, but you may have to do this weekly during the growing season for up to two years until the vine is fully gone. Make sure to safely dispose of all the cut plant parts in a sealed garbage bag.
Additionally, kudzu sends out new growth from the root crown but not the entire root below it. For this reason, removing the root crown is crucial. To do so, cut the root just below the root crown using a handsaw or pruning shears (depending on the size). If the root crown is still intact, or if any vines are left in the soil, your kudzu will grow back.
It’s important to keep a close eye on the affected area for a couple of years before you declare a total victory over kudzu. An equally important task is to replant the area with a desirable landscaping plant to help fill in space. Do not leave the land bare—this can increase the risk of kudzu returning and re-establishing itself.