Rhododendron ponticum removal

Not sure how to deal with Rhododendron ponticum? We’re here to help with advice and provide a complete removal package

Rhododendron bush with pink flowers

What is Rhododendron ponticum?

Rhododendron ponticum, also known as Pontic rhododendron, is an evergreen shrub native to Southeastern Europe and Southwestern Asia. Rhododendron ponticum was originally introduced to the UK from Gibraltar in the late 18th century as an ornamental plant. It was admired for its attractive flowers and evergreen foliage and was widely planted by the Victorians in policy woods and estate houses.

There are lots of different rhododendron cultivars, but it is only this one vigorous hybrid that has become invasive over time, particularly in woodlands, heathlands, and moorlands. It spreads rapidly and forms dense thickets, outcompeting our native flora. For this reason, it is listed on the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, meaning it must not be allowed to spread into the wild.

What does it look like?

It has dark green, glossy, elliptical leaves up to 22cm in length and eye-catching, funnel-shaped flowers in shades of purple and mauve that bloom in spring. Rododendron ponticum can grow up to 10-15 feet (8m) tall with a bushy, spreading habit. The wood is hard, with light brown rough bark.

Rhododendron bush with lilac flowers
Rhododendron bud in winter
Rhododendron Ponticum flower

What damage is caused by Rhododendron ponticum?

The invasive nature of Rhododendron has led to several negative impacts on the UK’s native ecosystems. It can outcompete native plant species for light, nutrients, and space, reducing biodiversity. Its dense growth can also create unfavourable habitats for native wildlife. The toxins found in the plant seep into the surrounding soils, which increases its acidity, causing reduced growth of other native species.

Due to its invasive status, efforts have been made to control and manage Rhododendron in the UK. Various methods including cutting, herbicide application, and excavation, have been used to control its spread. The techniques certainly vary depending on the size of the infestation. All landowners have a duty under the Wildlife and Countryside Act to manage R.ponticum on their land.

Biodiversity

Rhododendron ponticum can form dense thickets, creating a canopy that shades out native plants. This competition for light, space, and nutrients can lead to a decline in native plant species. As native plants are suppressed, this, in turn, affects the wildlife that relies on them for food and habitat.

Wildlife

The dense growth of Rhododendron ponticum can limit access to food sources and nesting sites for wildlife. It can also create barriers for species that require open spaces or specific conditions to breed and forage.

When bees pollinate the plant’s flowers and bring the nectar back to their hives, the resulting honey contains grayanotoxins, which are poisonous and can lead to considerable stomach upset and cardiac discomfort (Arrhythmia). This toxin poses a threat to humans, pets, horses, birds, and livestock. 

Soil degradation

The decomposition of rhododendron leaves can alter soil chemistry and contribute to soil acidification, which may further hinder the growth of native plants.

The thick leaf canopy formed by the plant also tends to eliminate grass. Consequently, significant soil erosion can take place during heavy rain, as the grasses that would normally aid in soil binding has disappeared because of the plant. 

Altered ecosystem processes: 

The invasion of Rhododendron ponticum can disrupt natural ecosystem processes, such as nutrient cycling and water flow. This can have cascading effects on the entire ecosystem and impact the services it provides, such as water purification and flood regulation. 

Fire hazard

The dry, dead foliage of Rhododendron ponticum can pose a fire hazard, especially during dry seasons. The plant’s natural oils can make fires burn hotter and more intensely.

Legal implications

As Rhododendron ponticum is listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, meaning that you must not put it in your green waste collection and should check whether your local recycling centre will accept it before taking it there.

You can burn the plants on your property subject to local bylaws or ask a registered waste carrier to take it to a tip that will accept it. Dried, larger plants make good firewood.

At Environet, we can use our patented Biochar technology to get rid of rhododendron, turning something bad into something useful!

Use our extensive guide to identify Rhododendron ponticum

What does Rhododendron ponticum look like?

Prevent costly damage to your property

How can I control Rhododendron ponticum?

There are several methods which you can attempt to use to remove the plant, such as hand pulling or stump treatment, however, these methods depend on the size of the infestation and it might be difficult to know which method will be the most effective, especially when the plant is at high risk of regrowth from seeds (which can remain viable for up to 3 years) or root fragments.

For larger or particularly stubborn infestations, your best bet is to talk to the professionals. At Environet, we use a wide range of techniques to control or eradicate Rhododendron ponticum from your property. These methods include hand pulling, mulching, herbicide treatment and excavation.

Hand pulling

For new saplings, hand pulling can be an effective, low impact control solution. The downside is that it can be extremely time consuming, and root fragments may get left behind in the soil, so follow up monitoring to check for regrowth is important.

Mulching

Another minimal impact method is known as mulching. Immature and semi mature stands of rhododendron are cut to ground level and treated with herbicide which is either drilled into the stumps or painted onto the cut surfaces. The areas are then heavily mulched to prevent regrowth. Cut stumps are however prone to regrowth, even after treatment, so monitoring and follow up treatment is likely to be required.

Foliar herbicide treatment

Treating the leaves of the plants can be effective on very dense and low growing infestations and comes with the added benefit of speed. However. there are disadvantages – namely the risk of accidentally killing other non-target plants and the risk of run off or residual herbicides taking a long time to break down in the soil. You are also then left with all of the dead plants, which will inevitably have to be grubbed out to facilitate replanting or natural regeneration.

Mechanical excavation

Felling the top growth and excavating the roots of Rhododendron ponticum is the most thorough method, although it comes at the highest cost and causes the most disruption. Some plants can be removed by hand, by using the plants branches as natural levers to prise the roots out of the ground. More often a mechanical excavator will be used to grub out the roots.

Again, follow up monitoring will be needed to check for regrowth from roots or stems left behind, as well as regrowth from seed. 

If you would like advice or a quote, please give our friendly team a call today.

With over 25 years’ experience in the industry, Environet is the UK’s leading invasive plant removal company. During this time, we’ve dealt with some of the UK’s most common non-native invasive plants including Japanese knotweed, Bamboo, Giant hogweed and, of course, Rhododendron ponticum.

We specialise in helping both homeowners and developers across the UK, as well as organisations such as councils and housing associations.

Whether you need to identify a potentially invasive plant or need professional removal, contact the team at Environet today.

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Accreditations

We have robust systems in place for Environmental and Health & Safety management. Risk assessments are carried out for every aspect of our business to identify situations where harm could be caused. We have an ethos of continuous improvement to eliminate or reduce the risks with detailed working procedures, on-going training and monitoring.

All our staff have health and safety and emergency first aid training. We are also accredited by CHAS and Constructionline and are members of the Property Care Association (PCA).

GET IN TOUCH

Our team of experts is available between 9am and 5:30pm, Monday to Friday to answer your enquiries and advise you on the next steps

Want a survey?

If you already know you have an invasive plant problem, you can request a survey online in less than two minutes by providing a few brief details. A member of the team will swiftly come back to you with further information and our availability.

Need quick plant identification?

Simply upload a few images of your problem plant to our identification form and one of our invasive plant experts will take a look and let you know, free of charge what you are dealing with. We’ll also be there to help with next steps where necessary. 

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