Late in spring one recognizes this large shrub in bloom, covered by numerous small white flowers. And like all roses it has serrated edged leaflets — 5 to 9 for this species — and thorns — large, curving, and copious here. Because their red berries ripen in the fall, the best time to tackle this invasive plant is from spring through July.
Although birds feed on multiflora rose berries, when eaten exclusively, these non-native red berries — lacking the high fat content birds need — won’t carry them through the winter. So the best advice is to replace at least some multiflora rose shrubs, which are highly invasive, with native shrubs such as pussy willow (Salix discolor), silky dogwood (Cornus amomum), winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis) and northern bayberry (Morella [Myrica] pensylvanicato), to provide better nutrition and greater variety. Other alternatives include: coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), American hazelnut (Corylus americana), and witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), which also provides cover for birds in winter.
Multiflora rose can form dense thickets up to six feet high, so when working on it, be sure to wear leather working gloves or even welders’ gloves, googles or glasses, high boots, long sleeves and long pants.
Methods for removing multiflora rose vary with the size of the plant, but the objective always is to remove or kill the root crown. Very small seedlings can be pulled, root and all, with a hand tool, preferably using the gripping power of large 8″ pliers (linesman pliers) — being careful not to expose the snipping edge of the tool to the plant. If cut down without addressing the root crown, however, this shrub will quickly regrow.
If the plant is too large for pliers, the best tool is a weed wrench or a good alternative. For even larger plants, cut canes with a pair of loppers or a limb saw blade (on a folding or reciprocating saw) up to 12 inches off the ground. This works for the time being and also allows enough stem for the weed wrench to grab and uproot the root crown immediately or later on if necessary. Then sever the lateral and vertical roots as far from the crown as possible.
Reminder: when working with multiflora rose, always wear thick leather work gloves or welder’s gloves. And a good trick for shielding one’s body from the thorny canes when cutting them is to lean a sheet of corrugated cardboard against the plant to block the thorny canes.
Methods and tools to help eliminate large multiflora rose shubs:
Both the weed wrench and the Pulaski pull out the stump with the benefit of leverage.
Larger plants with substantial crowns can be dug out with a mattock tool or a Pulaski landscaping axe, using the curved mattock blade for digging.
One way to kill a large root crown so the plant dies but remains in place for the time being, is to make a cut or girdle about ½” deep around the stem of the shrub at ground level with a limb saw blade. The canes may be removed once the shrub has died.
Lastly, cut the entire shrub at the ground then cover the crown that remains in the ground with 4 mil thick black plastic sheeting. Secure this cover with 6” long landscape staples and leave in place for up to one year. This will not kill the root but will keep it from spreading in the near term. Eventually the root crown can be dug out with a large shovel.