Multiflora Rose Shrub

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Multiflora rose shrub blooming in June

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.

Multiflora rose berries in early August

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 provide cover for birds in winter.

Large multiflora rose shrub surrounding a maple tree

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, goggles or glasses, high boots, long sleeves and long pants.

Young multiflora rose

Methods for removing multiflora rose vary with the size of the plant with the objective always being to remove or kill the root crown. Very small seedlings can be pulled with a hand tool, preferably using the gripping power of large 9″ linesman pliers. If cut down without addressing the root crown,  this shrub will quickly regrow from suckers, requiring routine pinching off to control. Whenever new growth appears, wear leather work gloves to simply bend the suckers downward to snap them off. This method also works well on other plant species.

Regrowth of new canes

If the plant is too large for pliers, the best tool is a weed wrench or comparable. For larger plants, cut canes down to the stem, using loppers, and cut stems roughly 12 inches above the ground with a folding limb saw or reciprocating saw. This works for the time being, leaving enough stem for the weed wrench to grab to uproot immediately or later on. Once uprooted enough to find the roots, cut or saw the lateral and tap roots underground as far from the crown as possible.

Weed wrench grabs stump

Reminder: when working with multiflora rose, always wear thick leather work gloves or welder’s gloves. 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:

Weed wrench, Pulaski ax and loppers

Both the weed wrench and the Pulaski pull out the stump with the benefit of leverage.

Large multiflora rose root crown and Pulaski ax

Larger plants with substantial crowns can be dug out with a mattock tool or a Pulaski landscaping ax, using the curved mattock blade for digging.

Girdle at the crown with a limb saw

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.

Large multiflora rose root crown
Black plastic sheeting inhibits photosynthesis

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 landscape staples and leave in place for up to one year. This will not kill the root but will keep the plant from spreading in the near term. Eventually the root crown can be dug out with a large shovel.