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Eastern Red Cedar is Public Enemy Number One

Posted Jan. 1, 2003

I have attended several state meetings of different organizations this fall and have heard several talks about Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). According to Mark Moseley, NRCS state range conservationist, Oklahoma lost about 782 acres per day to cedar encroachment between 1985 and 1995. Yes, Eastern red cedar is native, but was historically controlled by fires. Now land that was once open prairie is covered with cedar and no longer provides grazing for livestock.

Dr. David Engle of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at OSU lists some of the negatives associated with cedars as increased pollen and allergy problems, decreased soil moisture, competition for space and sunlight, loss of ecosystem diversity and increased wildfire danger.

There are many methods to control cedar, including burning, chaining, cutting, dozing, mowing, spraying and combinations of these. Cedar, like any weed, is easiest to control when it is small. This winter, while your pastures are dormant, take time to assess if you have small cedars. Small cedars are easier to see in the winter when they are green and the surrounding grass is brown. If there are few enough small cedars, I recommend always carrying an axe or pruning shears and cutting them out. If there are too many cedars to cut, but they are small, you might want to plan a prescribed fire. Fire typically works on cedars smaller than head high. Pesticides also can be effective. Labeled chemicals include Tordon (picloram) and Velpar or Power Pellets (haxazinone). Always read and follow label directions.

One product I am aware of, but not familiar with, is the Lawson Aerator. They offer tandem and straight-blade models that work like rolling choppers. They are advertised to mulch 6- to 8-inch diameter trees. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has purchased one and is using it for brush sculpting.

If the cedars are a little larger, but still few enough to cut with an axe or chainsaw, you will need to do something with the carcasses. One option is to pile them for burning or leave the brush piles for small game species. My colleague, Eddie Funderburg, would probably encourage you to sink them in a favorite lake for crappie structure. I have seen cedar logs "skinned" with a high-pressure washer leaving a very attractive, decorative post for rustic building projects. For larger logs, you may be able to sell them to a sawmill. Check your yellow pages under "sawmills" for more information.

Don't get caught like the frog in the frying pan unaware of the problem until it is too late. Take the time to control cedars now before your land becomes part of the 782-acre statistic.

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