Do you have an unwanted mesquite tree or bush taking up part of your yard? Mesquite trees have developed ways to survive the intense heat and drought conditions in desert areas ranging from Texas to California, and Kansas to Mexico, making it very hard to rid your lawn or garden of their thorny branches and deep roots.
The best way to kill large bush sized or tree sized mesquites is to prune back smaller branches until you reach the main trunk or basal stems of the tree. Then, cut down the mesquite to the stump and apply a strong tree killing herbicide to the fresh cut within 30 minutes.
BEWARE! If the herbicide is not applied correctly or in a timely manner, the mesquite will rejuvenate with even more, thicker sprouts.
Can’t I Just Chop Down a Mesquite?
Mesquite trees are survivors, and they have to be in the desert climates where they are found.
With unpredictable rainfall, hungry animals, and the occasional vigilant gardener, mesquites have developed coping features.
One feature are roots that allow them to tap into very deep water tables.
Another is the ability to rejuvenate even when their tops are eaten or chopped down.
Yep, that means no matter how often you cut them down, they will just keep popping back up, thicker and stronger than ever.
In fact, the more you cut them, the more sprouts you will get.
If you look at different mesquite trunks, the plants that had their tops chopped off (top-kills) end up with a more bushy appearance than those who avoided nibbling critters and were able to reach maturity with the least amount of damage.
Here are my 5 best methods of getting rid of Mesquite trees.
#1: Mesquite Chop (Cut) and Stump
This is, I believe, the most efficient way to get rid of a mesquite. As stated before, chopping down a mesquite tree doesn’t work, unless…. it is coupled with an application of herbicide onto the stump.
As with other hard to kill trees, such as Russian Olive Trees, which also thrive in dry climates, the best way to get rid of a mesquite tree is to chop it down so you can get to the basal (base) stem or stump to poison it closest to the source of its rejuvenation, or bud zone.
Warning: Young branches of mesquite trees have very long thorns. Make sure to wear gloves and other protective clothing while cutting down the tree.
Watch out! Not all tree killing herbicides are equal. Some lack the potency to kill of the basal stem.
I highly recommend using Tordon or 2-4-D. Once the tree has been cut down, apply a 100% concentration of the herbicide onto the outside ring of the trunk and let it sit for a week or so.
For more information about Tordon, check out this blog post.
Side Note: Mesquite is a hard wood and will dull blades on equipment quickly.
If you don’t have a chainsaw powerful enough to cut the mesquite down to apply the tree killer on the stump, a general use of tree killing herbicides can be used.
However, these methods are best suited for small and young trees.
#2: Spraying Seedlings with Weed Killer
When a mesquite is still in the seedling stage (until about age 2), a young mesquite can be treated like any other weed.
Applying a good weed killer, like Round Up, can kill the plant before it has a chance to establish deep roots.
However, as the mesquite grows, the roots deepen making it harder to kill. By the time the tree reaches maturity, the tap root can reach depths between 50-200 feet!
# 3: Apply Herbicide on Foliage
A herbicide can be applied to the general foliage of the plant when it is receptive to absorption.
According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension this happens about 45-90 after the bud breaks (when the leaf buds appear).
This is the time when the tree is transporting carbohydrates from the leaves to the roots.
When applying herbicide, make sure that the tree has nice dark green, undamaged leaves that are not wet.
Also, check to make sure that the tree isn’t putting its energy into creating new leaves or growth.
The aim is for the herbicide to be transported from the leaves into the roots via the phloem, not into new leaves.
Side Note: This method is not very effective on older trees.
Tip: Add some food coloring or other dye into the chemical so when it is sprayed you can see what area has and has not been treated.
# 4: Herbicide on Basal Stem
Another method is to spray the bottom 12 inches of the tree trunk with a strong herbicide like Tordon or 2-D-4.
This works best on trees with only one or two basal stems.
A disadvantage to either of these methods is that you will be left with a dead tree in the yard, or part of the tree regrows because part of the tree didn’t receive chemical on it.
Side Note: Areas treated with Tordon are safe for pets once the chemical has dried.
When you use a piece of equipment, say a saw or a tractor, you are using mechanical methods to remove the tree.
Another great way to get rid of mesquite trees or bushes is to use a plow on a tractor.
This might be hard for those who don’t have any farming buddies on speed dial, but using a plow is a great way to break up the bud zone on mesquite plants.
However, if the mesquite is too big, it will have to be chopped down so the tractor can easily plow it under without getting stuck.
Contact a agricultural equipment store near you to see what options are available in your area.
Can I Burn Mesquites to Get Rid of Them?
The problem with burning mesquites is that you still can’t destroy the bud zone of the plant.
A mesquite’s bud zone (where rejuvenation occurs) extends down on the base of the plant between 12-18 inches below the ground.
Even when burned, the tree will only have experienced a top-kill, with new sprouts coming back up in greater numbers.
Mesquite Removal Method Advantages and Disadvantages at a Glance
|Chop (Cut) and Stump||Works on all ages of trees.|
Tree is completely gone.
Least chance of regrowth.
Extensive ware on a chainsaw.
|Spraying Seedlings With Weed Killer||Effective way to get rid of seedlings before they establish extensive root systems|
|Only works on seedlings|
|Apply Herbicide on Foliage||Easy to kill large amounts of trees|
Good for bush type plants
|Full coverage of plant might be difficult|
Chance of regrowth
Not as effective on older plants
Leaves dead tree
|Herbicide on Basal System||Easy to apply|
Good for plant with one or two basal stems
|Not as effective on older plants|
Harder to use on multi-stemmed plants
Leaves dead plant
|Plowing||Thorough in destroying bud zone on a mesquite||Equipment may be hard to procure|
Tree chopping might have to occur before so plant can be plowed under.
|Chopping Down||Removes tree temporarily||Thicker, harder to manage regrowth will occur|
|Burning||Removes tree temporarily||Thicker, harder to manage regrowth will occur|
How to Prevent Mesquite Trees from Growing
Prevention is sometimes the best tactic when it comes to mesquite trees.
The seeds of mesquite trees are very tiny, with dozens residing in a single bean pod.
The main method of dispersion is from being eaten by animals, then exiting the body with whatever else the animal ate that day.
Not all seeds that end up in the pile of manure are viable, but some are.
If a seed finds an ideal location with plenty of sun, at least a few days of water, and a way to get a little soil on top of it, it will begin to grow.
So how can you keep it from sprouting?
Competition. The seed can’t grow if there is already a well established plant in its way.
A nice green lawn is a great way to prevent mesquites from growing. As long as there are no gaps in the grass, the seed won’t have a chance to root.
Another way to keep mesquite trees at bay is to invest in a goat, or a whole herd, depending on how many fits your situation.
Young mesquites have thorns that can be about 3 inches long.
Goats might like to eat almost any vegetation, but they draw the line when it comes to tongue cutting thorns.
However, they LOVE mesquite bean pods.
In fact, according to the Noble Research Institute, out of all surveyed livestock, goats ate the most pods compared to cows, horses, and sheep.
Some animals, such as coyotes and deer will eat the bean pods, with some of the seeds remaining viable after defecation.
However, when a goat eats a bean pod, hardly any of the seeds remain viable when they reenter the world from their trip through the goats digestive system.
Benefits of Mesquite Trees
Before you go out and invest in a herd of goats or dull down your favorite chain saw, you might want to consider some of the benefits that mesquite trees provide.
For millennia, mesquite trees provided essential nutrition to Southwestern Native American tribes.
Native Americans would gather up the dried bean pods and grind them up into flour and use them to make small cakes, thicken stews, or make fermented beverages with them.
Today, people have discovered this high protein source and use it in baking and other culinary pursuits.
Mesquite beans contain 35% more protein then soybeans, and are gluten free. Some people use them to make jams and jellies.
Side Note: Although the bean pods can be eaten raw, and taste sweet and delicious, the seeds are like tiny rocks.
I ruined a blender trying to grind up the pods. Make sure to remove seeds before grinding.
Mesquites surprising benefits don’t end there.
Native Americans made a antiseptic from its black sap, and a tea that helped with headaches and stomach troubles from its leaves.
When pruned properly, mesquite trees make fantastic shade trees, some reaching over 20 feet.
The trick is to prune away all of the smaller branches, leaving only one or two main trunks.
Continue pruning, and the tree will develop a nice canopy, providing great shade during the summer.
Uses for Mesquite Wood
If you decide to go ahead and cut down the mesquite tree, there are several uses for the wood byproducts.
Since mesquite is a hard wood, it is a great medium for wood working projects.
Depending on the size of the tree, you can use the wood to make chairs, benches, tables, handles for tools, decorative wooden art, wood for wood burning projects, and more.
You can also use the wood for cooking.
Mesquite is a slow burning wood that gives a distinctive flavor to foods cooked with it. It is great for smoking meat.
Side Note: Beware using a wood chipper with mesquite.
Mesquite is a very hard wood, so it might not process well in a wood chipper.
Mesquite wood is also a great wood for fireplaces in the winter time.
With a slow, but intense heat, mesquite is the perfect wood to throw on the fire on a cold winter night.
For mesquite control maintenance, pull small sprouts (while wearing gloves) once the seedling emerges.
If regrowths from failed attempts start popping up, prune them down while they are still small.
No matter what method you choose, it is important to be vigilant to keep them from popping back up in your yard.
These trees know how to survive, but with the proper yard maintenance, you can keep them in check.
So, put on your gloves, grab your favorite chainsaw, and soon you’ll be able to enjoy a mesquite free yard while enjoying some mesquite flavored brisket at your next barbecue.