Don’t Overlook Best Practices for Selective Herbicide Use

By Richard Hendler


The ways in which arboriculture professionals approach vegetation management can vary widely. For applications such as utility rights-of-way, continuous attention, planning and targeted work are necessary to counteract potential hazards and interfering overgrowth.

One of the most effective tools that can be used to reduce manual workload and foster more positive ecosystems in these target areas is selective herbicide use, as part of an overall integrated vegetation management (IVM) program.

But developing an effective herbicide program takes preparation and planning. And, more than anything, it simply requires following a handful of best-management practices to reap the benefits.


Shifting perception and improving biological communities

First, when it comes to the general public, herbicides aren’t always thought of in the most positive light. Whether it’s the imagined theoretical harm some of these materials can cause, or the volume of products used in a given application, there are some pervasive misconceptions about herbicides that tree care professionals must manage and mitigate.

In truth, today’s herbicidal products undergo rigorous testing and approvals to ensure overall environmental safety. Where we once measured the amount of materials used in “gallons per acre,” today we use “ounces per acre.” The level of knowledge and skill pertaining to responsible, selective herbicide use has evolved and matured throughout the years — today, we’re using it to the betterment of our environment.

Indeed, under IVM protocols, arborists have continued to shift how we think about undesirable target vegetation areas. Rights-of-way, for example, may no longer be seen as areas for repeat reclamation or mowing when it comes to vegetation growth. When the right control measures are taken, assisted by selective herbicide use, we can help transform rights-of-way into desirable thriving biological communities in their own right.

When properly managed, herbicide usage can help foster diverse communities of plant life by inhibiting invasive and undesirable growth, allowing beneficial plants to flourish. For example, tall-growing trees can pose an ongoing threat to overhead power lines for an electric utility. Selecting herbicides to control the growth of these hazard trees can allow low-growing grasses and other shrubbery to flourish instead.

The benefits from this type of strategy are numerous. The need for manual control of problematic tree species is greatly reduced. Non-targeted desirable plant species become important pollinators, bringing new wildlife species such as hummingbirds, butterflies and bees into new areas, while dead stumps and stems left by the targeted tree species can become new habitats.



IVM and herbicide use in practice

Like any job in arboriculture, deploying effective herbicide use depends on following established best practices. The golden rule? Successful application is careful, selective and targeted.

Advancements in herbicide and carrier technology enable users to distribute herbicides at much lower volumes than in the past while remaining just as — if not more — effective. Low-volume carrier products allow users to treat larger areas with less total herbicide, making for a minimized environmental impact and efficient treatment of targeted growth. This is seen in the widespread adoption and use of individual stem, or plant, applications. Low-volume basal bark treatment may be applied year-round while low-volume foliar (lvf) applications should be used during the growing season. Be sure to read and follow appropriate product labels to ensure proper application.

Following a closed chain-of-custody protocol when handling herbicide is also recommended. The Utility Arborist Association (UAA) established a best management practice, published by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), which provides detailed guidelines on how this can be accomplished through the use of returnable, reusable (R/R) supply containers and close tracking of how, where and when herbicides are being used. A closed system eliminates the need for handling concentrates and mixing of herbicide-to-carrier ratios in the field. Instead, custom blends are created in a controlled environment, allowing your operation to ensure consistent and exact application. R/R containers also help eliminate the disposal of plastic jugs, cardboard and pallets that are used if mixed in the field. Once R/R containers are no longer usable, they are recycled.

The closed chain-of-custody approach also reduces the chances a worker and/or unintended parts of the environment are accidentally exposed to the herbicides you’re applying. By eliminating the need for in-field mixing, chances of spillage and exposure are minimized. Remember, safety first.

Overall, there are several identified selective applications and options for herbicide use in the arboriculture industry. Do your research, follow best practices, and operate with safety at the forefront — you’ll be sure to find success.


Richard Hendler is a business consultant for ACRT. With his wide-ranging right-of-way (ROW) knowledge and integrated vegetation management (IVM) expertise, along with his deep industry involvement and leadership, he has helped bring new opportunities and successes to ACRT customers throughout the country. For more information about ACRT, visit

Related Articles