When ‘Do It Yourself’ Turns Into ‘Now You Did It’

As homeowners, it is very common to want to do the chores around the house yourself. It is a great way to get outside, be active and take pride and ownership in the way your property looks. From weeding the landscape beds to trimming the shrubs, there are several tasks that homeowners can complete on a sunny Saturday without too much trouble while still being able to flex their green thumbs. Sometimes, though, simple yard tasks can have drastic consequences when done incorrectly. One such instance happened this summer.

I received a call from a concerned homeowner, let’s call her “Mrs. Smith,” who had several trees throughout her property declining and dying. When speaking with Mrs. Smith over the phone, she was convinced that some insect or disease was moving throughout her property, as she was losing both big and small trees, conifers and deciduous. I had an inclination as to what the issue was, but waited until I was able to walk the property with her and see it firsthand.

I met with Mrs. Smith a couple days later. She was definitely accurate in her description of what was happening. As I approached the house, I saw three large, mature Black Walnut trees that were dead along the road. Once I pulled in the driveway, the devastation continued. There were declining spruce trees by the house and every landscape bed had dead and declining trees and shrubs throughout. Mrs. Smith met me by the garage as I was walking up to the house. She promptly escorted me to the backyard where there were dead and declining pines and maples, as well as more dead trees in the landscape beds.

Seeing the destruction in person was very shocking. I have previously heard stories of similar cases in training seminars and classes, but never witnessed it firsthand before. As we walked down the driveway to the road where the walnuts were, I asked Mrs. Smith some basic questions regarding how everything looked last year and when they started to decline. She said they were fine last year and just started declining and dying this year. She said the walnuts were the talk of the neighborhood as many walkers would stop to inquire what was wrong with them as they are the focal point of the road with their size and stature.

While in the drive by the road, I noticed a split rail fence running around the perimeter of the property and passing right by the walnut trees. Under the bottom rail of the fence was a perfectly manicured strip of bare soil, void of turf and weeds. At that point my previous inclination was solidified and I had to ask Mrs. Smith a difficult question.

“Have you applied any herbicide around the property?” I calmly asked her. Her expression slightly changed as the realization that she may have caused all of this slowly set in, “Yes,” she quietly answered. She began telling me about how she was having trouble string trimming under the fence and around the posts and how time consuming it was. She continued to explain how a co-worker recommended a herbicide to help control the turf so she wouldn’t have to string trim by the fence. I asked her if she still had the chemical and we started walking toward the garage to look for it. While walking up the drive and past the landscape beds, I asked Mrs. Smith if she applied any in the landscape beds and she said she had sprayed the weeds in them with the same chemical. Once in the garage, we located the jug of chemical that she used. I looked at the label and sure enough, there it was: Imazapyr.

Imazapyr is a chemical that some chemical companies have started adding to their formulations for certain herbicides. The nice thing about imazapyr is how fast it works. The bad thing about imazapyr is it doesn’t care what it comes in contact with, it will kill it. It doesn’t stop there, though. It will also trace the roots of what it comes in contact with and cross over to other trees or shrubs that may have root grafted with the initial tree. It can also leach through the soil without breaking down, so when it does come in contact with something, it will run its course through that plant. Finally, as if those weren’t enough, it will also release back into the soil for a time after it has killed off a tree or shrub, and can get into any new plantings that may have been put in to replace the previously dead plants.

Mrs. Smith, upon recommendation from her co-worker, applied an over-the-counter herbicide under her fence line and throughout her landscape beds. All she was trying to do was some light yard work to help maintain her property. What she ended up with though was far more work than she ever imagined.

Imazapyr is a chemical that is great for certain applications; homeowner-applied herbicide just isn’t one of them.