Dealing With Ashe Juniper Trees — Our Native Rangeland Invader

ashe juniper in texas

This important native tree benefits wildlife but not farmers. Deer graze the foliage, but cattle don't. Photo by rutlo at Flickr; CC 2.0 License.

Ashe juniper trees (Juniperus ashei) are known by many names, most commonly mountain cedar. The trees grow in only a few states, ranging from Missouri and Arkansas through Oklahoma, but mainly in Texas. Junipers produce berries, oil and a wood useful for a range of construction projects, from furniture to structural supports. The trees have a bad reputation because they crowd pasture land. Some consider them invasive and want to plant native trees in their place. Others argue that the original character of the landscape included juniper as a dominant species in the Texas Hill Country, and misuse of the land led to invasion by many types of woody plants, juniper included.

old ashe juniper

In 1999, the record ashe juniper in New Braunfels, Texas, measured 41 feet tall and 49 feet across the crown, with a trunk 139 inches around. It's the little ones that cause most of the trouble. Photo of this competitor by homeredwardprice at Flickr; CC 2.0 License.

Options:

Remove the above-ground portion of the tree. Mechanical removal methods include cutting down trees, chaining or treedozing.

Apply a herbicide or other chemical control to the stump, smaller trees and to the seed bed. The U.S. Forest Service suggests a spot-application of picloram at a rate of 0.1 ounce active ingredient per 3 feet of crown canopy is effective for all but the very largest trees with canopy diameters exceeding 15 feet. The People Against Cedars website suggests Velpar L applied at ground level and 1 percent Tordon 22K leaf spray for eradication.

Undertake prescribed burning. Landowners have two options: burn the trees the same year they are removed, or wait five years between removing trees and conducting a burn. The latter option gives other vegetation the chance to recover and prevents erosion. Limit animal grazing during the intervening years if the latter option is used.


Detailed advice from
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Introduce shade. Ashe juniper is assumed to be intolerant of shade, as other species of juniper demonstrate such an intolerance.

Monitor the area and repeat removal as needed. Be aware that juniper forms a wide, shallow, lateral root system, and junipers prolifically produce seed. Seedlings will present ongoing problems even after mature trees have been removed.

Plan for future burns to maintain the site. The U.S. Forest Service rates Ashe juniper as readily controlled by prescribed fire. Tree populations were once managed by natural fires and prescribed burns, but the predominance of pasture lands has reduced planned burns.


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Tips

Juniper trees are easily damaged by fire, due in part to their thin bark. Older trees show more fire resistance, while seedlings are easily killed. Mature trees require a hotter fire to kill. Large stands may need to be chained before burning to open the stand and allow fire to penetrate, while single trees can be burned using an accelerant.

Warnings

The U.S. Forest Service notes that a combination of mechanical removal and burning offers a better outcome than mechanical removal alone for getting rid of trees and preventing them from re-establishing, particularly where the trees were pulled from the ground.

Jimmy’s Notes:

All the years I spent in the Ozarks, I never realized there were two different native species of juniper in the area. There you find mostly eastern red cedar, a tree that grows tall and straight. Cut it down and it doesn’t grow back. On the balds and canyon ledges in the Ozarks you do see this other type, ashe juniper, with the spreading and distorted trunks and limbs, growing in soil only inches thick or hanging onto cracks in a limestone bluff where you can’t even find dirt.

I think the advice about controlling ashe juniper with shade works better in the northern part of its range. In Texas your other choice of tree might be mesquite and it does create many of the same problems. I suppose if your land was good enough you could try growing pecans, but pecans need water.

Fire definitely seems like the better answer, and it’s what the original residents of this country used to maintain open grazing for buffalo and elk, burning the open areas of prairie and even the balds about every seven years. Certainly fire is not a safe answer in every season or every year. You need some way to stop it. I’m not arguing with your article, Alice, it just brought some things to mind, I grew up when people in the Ozarks still set fire to the countryside regularly. Dangers go along with the benefits, but I think the forests there were healthier when people still did that. Back then, there weren’t so many houses in the way.

Biggest lesson I’ve learned about this is never to argue with somebody about whether it’s a juniper tree or a cedar. That always causes trouble.

References and Resources:

Untwisting the Cedar: The Myths and Culture of the Ashe Juniper Tree
http://www.jacksonresources.com/curriculum/Arch/ESeilerpresentation.pdf

U.S. Forest Service: Index of Species Information: Species: Juniperus Ashei
http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/junash/all.html

Range, Wildlife and Fisheries Management: Prescribed Burning Juniper Communities in Texas
http://www.rw.ttu.edu/newsletter/PRESCRIBED%20BURNING%20JUNIPER%20COMMUNITIESIN%20TEXAS.htm

People Against Cedars: Juniper Management and Control in Texas
http://www.peopleagainstcedars.com/html/cedar_control.html

Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center: Biology and Ecology of Ashe Juniper
http://texnat.tamu.edu/library/symposia/juniper-ecology-and-management/biology-and-ecology-of-ashe-juniper/

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