Controlling clonal tree species by double-cutting

By Jim Rogala

Continuing on the theme of herbicide-free control methods, I’ll talk about my experience with double-cutting. Again we look to the anatomy and physiology of the species to be controlled to understand how this works [for those of you that know why double cutting works, or don’t care why it works, you can skip the next three paragraphs]. Clonal species form what looks like many plants when in fact it is a single plant with many stems. These clusters of stems often have larger older stems toward the center and smaller younger stems on the perimeter. No matter what the control method you use (mechanical or chemical), all stems of the clone need to be treated. Cutting off the stems in the winter results in the formation of new stems from adventitious nodes the next spring.  Where there were tens (or hundreds) of stems prior to cutting, you might have hundreds (or thousands) after a winter cutting.

Cutting any plant when most of the energy stored in the roots has been translocated to above ground plant parts is advantageous. For most trees, this translocation occurs throughout the spring and early summer when it is building structures to 1) produce new energy, 2) to add to its size, and 3) for reproduction (leaves, trunk/branches, and flowers/fruit, respectively). After this annual use of energy from the roots is done, the tree begins translocating energy back to the roots at higher percentage. So, to deliver maximum hurt to the tree, cutting before energy starts going back to the roots is a good strategy. This maximum damage also minimizes prolific sprouting from adventitious nodes.

Even with a well-timed cutting, a tree still has enough energy in the roots to produce more above ground structure to assure it lives on. Here’s where the double-cutting comes in. After the first cutting, the tree needs to again use the remaining energy in the roots to build all new structures for the purpose of gaining energy (reproduction is put on hold under these stressful times). Similar to the first cutting, this second cutting is timed to coincide with maximum translocation of energy from the roots, but again not waiting past the period where a lot of energy is translocated to the roots.

I read about doubled-cutting years ago and have used it quite a bit. I generally follow the July 1 and August 1 timing for cutting but have varied it a little depending on growth in a given year (e.g., first cutting for sumac is usually after flowering). I’ve done the “cutting” with a variety of methods. I’ve used a mower if clones are large, where mowing is feasible, and the clone is not in a high-quality prairie. The point related to high quality prairie is that multiple years of repeated mowing can have negative effects on some desired species. I’ve found mowing to not be as effective, as it reduces shading of resprouts because everything gets cut. I’ve used a handheld brushcutter in native prairie areas, cutting each stem individually. It’s not as quick as mowing, but less damaging to other prairie species and better than using hand loppers to cut each stem. Loppers are effective for small clones. I’ve found that with sumac, you can actually snap off the stems in many cases (but be prepared to have the juices stain anything it gets on). Depending on the size of the stems, a Parsnip Predator can be used to cut the stems.

Another variable to consider is the height of the cut. I’ve varied this as well, from ground level to 2-3 foot high. Cutting to ground level results in fleshy resprouts that can easily be second-cut with a Parsnip Predator. The really high cut was done to encourage resprouting only on the stem and to test if you get less new stems from the roots. This method allowed a second cut of a single stem, rather than the cluster of resprouts that come from the base. With this method, I found that the stem sprouts can sometimes just be snapped or stripped off, especially with sumac. The disadvantages are that some of the energy in the stem is retained, and the resprouts are not shaded by other vegetation. The method seemed to work as well as cutting lower on the stem in areas of sparser vegetation.

How effective is double-cutting on clonal species? I use it only on aspen and sumac; it’s been found to be ineffective on black locust. Because these two species are native, I’m not really all that concerned with eradication. However, I have eradicated many clones using double-cutting (with no herbicide), but most of those required several years of double-cutting. In one case, a single double-cutting killed a sumac clone. This was an older clone, so include that as one of the variables that might contribute to success when using double-cutting.

You might consider herbicides if you want more certainty in eradication. However, as Tom Brock points out in his recent work (link to Tom’s work), even with herbicide it is a multi-year effort. For myself, I like the opportunity to control a native invading species without the use of chemicals. However, for the double-cutting to be effective, you must be timing the cuttings correctly, be cutting all of the stems in the clone, and continue the process as long as needed.

We’re Hiring!

We’re Hiring!

The Prairie Enthusiasts is a grassroots nonprofit organization with a mission to educate about, protect and restore
prairies and savannas of the Upper Midwest. Only a tiny fraction of these ecosystems remain, harboring
specialized and endangered plants and animals in some of the rarest habitats on Earth. As an accredited land
trust, The Prairie Enthusiasts strives to protect and steward these natural areas and to help others learn about
their importance.


With 11 regional chapters in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, our mission is largely carried out by grassroots
volunteers at the local level. Our Chapter Support team serves our Chapters and members and the vision
established by our volunteer leaders.
Who we are seeking


We are hiring either a full-time or part-time accounting position for our Chapter Support team in our Viroqua,
Wisconsin office. The position will work directly with our contract CPA and our internal Operations Coordinator.




Public Notice: We’re Applying to Renew Our Land Trust Accreditation

Public Notice: We’re Applying to Renew Our Land Trust Accreditation

The land trust accreditation program recognizes land conservation organizations that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever. The Prairie Enthusiasts is pleased to announce it is applying for renewal of accreditation. A public comment period is now open.

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, conducts an extensive review of each applicant’s policies and programs.

The Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending applications. Comments must relate to how The Prairie Enthusiasts complies with national quality standards. These standards address the ethical and technical operation of a land trust. For the full list of standards see

To learn more about the accreditation program and to submit a comment, visit, or email your comment to Comments may also be mailed to the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, Attn: Public Comments, 36 Phila Street, Suite 2, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.

Comments on The Prairie Enthusiasts application will be most useful by February 10th.

The Potential of Pastures and Oak Woods

The Potential of Pastures and Oak Woods

If you have an old field that you would like to plant to prairie or a stand of oak you would like to restore, don’t rush into it. Understand the history of the land and take time to observe and learn whether anything important remains. Very often degraded lands still harbor irreplaceable elements of biodiversity, and these have their own stories to tell about what a place was and could be. The tools we use in restoration can encourage these elements or extinguish them. By recognizing and preserving remnant populations of native species and their genes, we can counteract biotic homogenization[i], and sometimes we can reduce project complexity and expense in the process.

Many landowners with prairie planting projects in old fields or retired pastures already have important elements of the biodiversity they are trying to restore, many of which are commercially unavailable. Occasionally remnant populations of rare plants persist. Even areas that were formerly cultivated often support good prairie, savanna, and oak woodland species that have recolonized from the edges, or perhaps a neighboring oak savanna that has since become forest. In many cases as many desirable native species remain as would be required for a seed mix planted under a cost-share program! I have included a table with upland species often encountered in old fields and pastures; there are many more. It is not uncommon to encounter five to fifteen of these species in an old field and ten to twenty of them in a retired pasture.

In cases where there are some good things present, start by managing these areas as though they were still prairie. Selectively control encroaching woody vegetation and any patches of broad-leaved herbaceous weeds. Burn for a couple consecutive years during the dormant season to encourage anything good that might be suppressed by the thatch. See what happens and go from there, which will usually mean integrating inter-seeding, a lot of burning, and patience.

Many landowners with wooded ground have land that was once oak woodland, oak savanna, or oak barrens. Oak woodlands are conservation-worthy and rare, but they are sometimes mistaken for forests or inappropriately treated as savannas[i] or barrens. It is far more common to encounter structurally intact ground layer vegetation in heretofore unrestored woodlands than open savannas. In oak woodlands, good cover of Pennsylvania sedge or dry-spiked sedge often remains, and species that tend to favor dappled light vs. deep shade or full sun—poke milkweed, pale vetchling, yellow pimpernel, broad-leaved panic-grass, bearded shorthusk, purple Joe-pye weed, Carolina vetch, etcetera—are often still present. Even where oak woodlands have become shadier, that change has usually been more gradual and less in degree than in savannas. This has allowed more of the woodland vegetation to hang on.  Where a low sedgy or grassy ground layer remains, restoration might only involve modest brush work, removal non-oak understory hardwoods, non-oak overstory thinning/girdling, restoration of fire, and modest inter-seeding of missing species over time. Savanna restoration is critically important where true opportunities still exist, but good opportunities to restore oak woodland seem to be more common than savanna.

If you have an open area of cool-season grass or a stand of oak, I encourage you to take a closer look. You might discover there is more opportunity, or a different opportunity, than you initially thought. If you are looking for cost-share, go shopping for assistance that helps to build on what remains. Doing so should result in projects that conserve more community, species, and genetic diversity on the landscape.

Rich Henderson’s presentation “Converting Pasture to Prairie” on YouTube is an excellent resource.


i- Biotic homogenization is the process by which spatially separate ecological communities become more similar over time as the result of extinctions and invasions (or introductions).

ii- I use ‘savanna’ here in place of ‘oak opening’ for relatively open communities with mostly widely spaced, open-grown oak trees with prairie vegetation in-between.


Species Common Name and Notes
Andropogon gerardii Big bluestem
Antenneria spp. Pussytoes
Aristida spp. Three-awn grasses
Asclepias amplexicaulis Clasping-leaf milkweed, sandy sites
Asclepias syriaca Common milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly milkweed, sandy sites
Asclepias verticillata Whorled milkweed
Besseya bullii Kittentails, P
Bouteloua spp. Gramma grasses, P
Carex brevior Great Plains oval sedge
Carex gravida Heavy sedge
Carex normalis Greater straw sedge
Carex umbellata Parasol sedge
Cirsium discolor Prairie thistle
Crocanthemum spp. Frostweeds, sandy sites
Desmodium canadense Showy tick-trefoil
Desmodium illinoense Illinois tick-trefoil
Dichanthelium spp. Rosette panic-grasses
Erigeron pulchellus Robin’s plantain
Fragaria virginiana Virginia wild strawberry
Gentiana alba Cream gentian
Lathyrus venosus Veiny Pea, P
Lechea spp. Pinweeds, sandy sites
Lespedeza capitata Round-headed bushclover
Lithospermum caroliniense Hairy puccoon, sandy sites
Lobelia spicata Pale-spiked lobelia, P
Lysimachia lanceolata Lance-leaved loosestrife, sandy sites
Monarda fistulosa Bergamot
Oenothera perennis Small sundrops, P
Packera paupercula Balsam ragwort, P
Penstemon gracilis Lilac beardtongue, sandy sites
Primula meadia Midland shooting star, P
Pycnanthemum virginianum Mountain mint
Ranunculus fascicularis Early buttercup, P
Ratibida pinnata Yellow coneflower
Rudbeckia hirta Black-eyed Susan
Schizachyrium scoparium Little bluestem
Solidago juncea Early goldenrod
Solidago nemoralis Old field goldenrod
Solidago rigida Stiff goldenrod
Solidago speciosa Showy goldenrod
Sorghastrum nutans Indiangrass
Symphyotrichum oolentangiense Sky-blue aster, P
Tradescantia ohiensis Ohio spiderwort
Verbena stricta Hoary vervain
Viola sagittata Arrow-leaved violet

‘P’ used for species more often found in pastures than old fields

[i] I use ‘savanna’ here in place of ‘oak opening’ for relatively open communities with mostly widely spaced, open-grown oak trees with prairie vegetation in-between.

What Guides You on Your Journey?

By Scott Fulton

For thousands of years, the people who lived here shared a common set of values across diverse cultures, languages, and lifeways: a deep sense of relationship with the land and its living things, respect for all the members of that community, a desire for reciprocity and balance, and responsibility to future generations. Their active care, through fire and other means, built and maintained over time a beautifully open and richly diverse landscape where everyone could thrive.

Those who colonized here from elsewhere in the world beginning in the 1600’s clearly did not share those same values, at least with respect to the land. They tended to view land and its many resources as property to be used as its owners saw fit. They worked hard to make the land productive, and we have all benefited in our current lifestyles from their centuries of labor.

However, by the mid-Twentieth Century, some visionaries began to see that there was something deeply wrong with this attitude about our relationship with the land. Aldo Leopold, in his Sand County Almanac, described the natural communities he loved beginning to disappear and laid out a set of values he called the “Land Ethic” as a way forward. John Curtis, in his Vegetation of Wisconsin, scientifically documented those communities down to their species composition, giving us important tools to identify and perhaps restore them. Rachel Carson, in her Silent Spring, made clear in a heart-rending way how our modern technologies could subtly but certainly destroy the animals and plants we most cherish.

Almost 50 years ago, inspired by those visionaries and others, a few small groups of young men and women began to seek out the last remnants of the prairies and oak savannas that had once dominated much of our upper Midwest landscape. Where they could, they began to cut away the encroaching brush and trees, plant rare seeds collected from other remnants, and, most importantly, rekindle the use of prescribed fire. No one paid them to do this – it was a labor of love to restore these tiny but exquisite islands of “biodiversity” (a term then recently coined).

Over time these local groups grew and had some success. Eventually, they came to understand it was not enough to just restore and manage these treasured remnants – they also had to be permanently protected and cared for by future generations. That required more financial, legal, and organizational resources than any one local group had. They also were learning fast, both from the infant science of restoration ecology and from their own hands-on experiences. They realized that by coming together regionally they could share both resources and knowledge to make what they were doing sustainable. However, they also knew that their dedicated communities of land stewards are intensely rooted in place. Thus, The Prairie Enthusiasts, with its structure of local volunteer chapters, was born.

Today that seed that was planted two generations ago has grown into an organization with 11 chapters in three states, almost 50 preserves protected through ownership or conservation easement, over $12 million in assets, and a volunteer membership of well over a thousand, served by a growing professional support staff. Many of our first generation of pioneering leaders have passed away or are retiring from the field, and even our second-generation leaders (myself included) are beginning to think about handing off the torch. Despite all this impressive history and growth, all of us in TPE believe that our work in the world is only just beginning and will become even more important as time goes on.

At this critical point in our history, as we consider once more how to sustain ourselves into the future, the Board of Directors, under the leadership of Executive Director Debra Behrens, undertook to develop a set of core values for TPE. The goal was to articulate what most essentially defines who we really are as an organization, what we cherish, how we behave, and how we make decisions together. Even though they have been mostly unstated, our core values have guided us on our journey so far. By making them clear to all, they can help inspire and guide those who will continue this journey after us.

As developed and approved by the Board, these are the core values of The Prairie Enthusiasts:

  • Rooted in reverence for the Land
    All that we are, and everything we do is deeply rooted in our love and respect for the Land – the communities of soils, water, plants, animals, and other living things of which we are a part.
  • Long view
    The origins of the land are ancient. We are stewards of the present – the legacy entrusted to our care. Our actions shape what is possible for future generations.
  • Working together
    We are responsible for caring for the land. Everyone has a unique ability to contribute. By working together, we form bonds that make our community stronger than ourselves.
  • Sharing knowledge
    We honor wisdom and experience, science and the arts. We are seekers and teachers, sharing what we have learned and encouraging others to build on it.

I for one am very proud to be part of an organization based on these core values. Let me know what you think at