2017-06-22 / From The Garden

Nothing Sweet about Bittersweet

By Cynthia Gibson


American bittersweet American bittersweet We have all seen wreaths made from the bittersweet vine. The distinctive red berries with bright yellow shell-like petals is a favorite in the fall. Now is when the vine grows most aggressively.

There are two varieties of bittersweet, the American bittersweet and the Oriental bittersweet. The second is easily distinguished because of the thorns on its stems and vines, in contrast to the American bittersweet’s smooth stems. Both are a rich deep green at this time of year.

All bittersweet vines are invasive, however. The American variety has been removed due to the overly aggressive “takeover” of the Oriental variety. In some states, American bittersweet is now a protected vine.

Parks, roadsides, forests, local wooded areas, and even backyards have been invaded by the Oriental bittersweet. It starts out looking like a harmless vine that quickly turns into a climbing monster. The thorns on the stems and vines easily stick into the bark of a tree, fence or trellis. The vines become woody and very strong. It grows about one foot a month. The only way to rid your property of this menace is with herbicide. If one vine grows, three new ones will pop up the following year.


Oriental bittersweet Oriental bittersweet This is the time of year to get rid of it. The leaves of the Oriental bittersweet vine are heart-shaped and attractive. That is why many people do not recognize it as harmful to neighboring plants or trees. You will quickly learn that leather gloves are necessary to remove the thorns.

There is a reason that bittersweet is abundant in our forests and roadsides. The vine was imported from Asia in the late 1800s and planted along the roadsides of America to prevent erosion, and as food for wildlife. The danger was not realized at that time, and we are still suffering from the weed to this day.

Herbicide is the perfect eradicator for this vine, but be cautious when using it. The best way to attack the vine is to cut it down to three inches above its base, discard the long vine immediately, and with a disposable spongy brush, apply herbicide directly onto the cut stem and any leaves near the base of the vine. This method will prevent wind drift that accompanies spraying. You do not want to kill nearby plants. Check the vines in a week and if they need another coat, apply a second time.

This fall, when a dear friend gives you a handmade heart-shaped bittersweet vine, just smile and say thank you. Remember that the method of disposal of this wreath after the holidays is important. Tossing it into your compost pile is asking for trouble. Place it into a garbage bag and throw in your tall black bin. Each little red ball, which is the fruit of the bittersweet, contains seeds. They re-seed effortlessly, so get to work on removing these vines.

Gardening Tips for July:

Fertilize tomato plants once a month.

. Water potted plants twice a day and make sure pots have holes in the bottom and are in a saucer.

Time to pick strawberries. They are fresh from the garden, and who can resist fresh Strawberry Shortcake in early summer?

This is the last week to plant your melon seedlings. Time is running out!

All herbs can now be planted outdoors.

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