What is Kudzu And How Do I Control It?

Kudzu is a fast-growing, aggressive vine easily recognized in the Southeastern United States.

Ah, kudzu. It's like the botanical equivalent of a friend you invite to stay for the weekend who ends up moving in. During the 1930s, the Soil Conservation Service, created by Congress, distributed over 70 million kudzu seedlings to farmers to help curb the nation's soil erosion problem. Unfortunately, not only did the kudzu take root (particularly in the Southeastern part of the country), but it soon went rogue and quickly grew out of control. By the time the government realized its mistake, it was too late. If you have kudzu growing on your property, you know why this botanical beast is sometimes called a menace.

What is Kudzu?

Kudzu is a noxious, trailing perennial vine that is a member of the pea family. A fast grower with the annoying habit of climbing over anything in its path, kudzu grows best in warm, humid weather like that found in the Southeast—no surprise there, as it’s native to Asia. However, kudzu can also be found growing as far north as New York and even in parts of the Pacific Northwest. With its aggressive spreading habit, kudzu can quickly grow out of control, taking over entire landscapes and smothering any plants that dare get in its way.

Kudzu leaves have 3 egg-shaped leaflets attached to a long leaf stalk. The leaves can grow up to 6 inches long and are covered in tiny hairs, which give it a fuzzy appearance. Kudzu vines are covered with brown bristles that help the plant spread along the ground and climb over fences, rooting as it goes. As the plant matures, these vines become woody and thick (up to 4 inches in diameter). Where the plant has been left to its own devices, chances are you'll find it completely covering tall trees and other structures. Two surefire ways to identify kudzu are by its deceptively attractive purple and reddish flowers (which usually appear in clusters in the late summer) and its hairy seed pods (which resemble 2-inch-long pea pods).

How Do I Get Rid of Kudzu?

When it comes to killing kudzu, the key is to act quickly, as it can grow up to a foot per day when conditions are right. And while you could adopt a herd of cows or goats to eat away at the kudzu (which they would do, happily), it's much more cost effective to simply use Roundup® Poison Ivy Plus Tough Brush Killer products.

To control kudzu effectively, you have to spray the leaves and vines and treat the cut stumps. (You'll probably need to do more than one application, too.) Here's what to do: In spring before the leaves expand, locate where the large, thick vines emerge from the ground. Cut the vine off close to the ground and apply Roundup® Concentrate Poison Ivy Plus Tough Brush Killer to the cut stump, following label directions. Then, in late spring or early summer after the leaves have fully expanded, use Roundup® Ready-To-Use Poison Ivy Plus Tough Brush Killer with Comfort Wand® to spray the vines thoroughly, using a sheet of cardboard or plastic to protect any desirable plants. Apply a second treatment in late summer or early fall to kill any new vines that may emerge.

Are There Any Other Uses for Kudzu?

Unlike most weeds, kudzu can actually be used in a variety of ways. As a member of the pea family, kudzu is edible and can make for a quality, high protein forage crop for grazing animals like cows. Its roots can be dried, ground, and used as a replacement for cornstarch, and the flowers are often used to make jelly and soap. Plus, kudzu vines have strong fibers that make great weaving material, which is why many traditional and modern artists use kudzu in their basketry. If these uses don't appeal to you, though, you'll need to deal with your mounting kudzu problem before it swallows up your backyard.