Ecosystem Health > Brush Management

Brush is a general term for woody shrubs and trees which are out of place given the landowners objectives.

In Central Texas, landowners are most commonly referring to types of "cedar", mesquite, prickly pear, and occasionally scrub oak or plum.  Historical accounts show that issues with brush and attempts at managing this brush have occurred in Texas since anglo-settlement in the 1800's.  Prior to that, fire and buffalo herds often kept brush confined to particular areas in a landscape. 

The first step in managing brush is to be clear of your land objectives.  Depending upon your goals and knowledge of plant uses, brush may quickly become a "visual screen" or "wildlife cover".  After gaining knowledge about your land objectives, it may be time to assess each woody species and determine where and how it should be decreased or managed.  Remember that you don't have to clear it all to be successful.  Any brush management is best done in phases.  You will learn something nearly every time you clear or thin an area, and mistakes are hard to take back.

Preventing Brush

  • Manage livestock.  Tall, thick, healthy grasses will often out-compete woody seeds trying to sprout. 
  • Prescribed fire can be effective.  This is especially true when grass is tall and healthy.  Cool, winter burns usually do the trick.  However, as you gain more experience, hotter, warm-season burns can also be helpful. 
  • Focus on clearing small re-growth brush where the benefits are the greatest and the expenses are the least.

Methods of Control
There are usually several ways to control brush.  Using a multi-method approach will usually get the best results.

Chemical

  • Generally used on smaller cedar and mesquite, follow label directions to avoid harming yourself or desirable plants.
  • Contact experts and review expert material such as Brush Busters http://texnat.tamu.edu/BrushBusters/ or AgriLife Extension publication B-1466 for a more extensive list of range species and how to control them.

Fire / Prescribed Burn

  • This is nature's brush control method, and it can improve range and forest health when used in conjuction with other conservation practices.
  • Can be very effective and cost efficient on cedar under 5 feet tall.
  • Develop a burn plan and contact the experts.

Goats

  • It is possible to clear small cedar and other woody brush with goats (this is not preferred).  However, goats generally eat everything else first and should be used December - February.

Mechanical

  • For mesquite and red-berry juniper, grubbing with a back hoe or specialized dozer blade is the preferred way to kill the brush.  Grubbing involves lifting the root crown above the ground. 
  • For cedar (ashe juniper or eastern redcedar), equipment can simply remove all green limbs and the brush will die.  This can be done with bobcat shears, hydro-axe grinder, or dozer blade. 
  • Keep soil disturbance to a minimum!  Soil erosion can be devastating until grasses get reestablished.  Rocks can also be brought to the surface causing future management problems.
  • Protect hardwoods which benefit your management objectives.

Leftover Debris

Leftover debris can be substantial.  Management of this debris should reflect your land objectives.  Burning cedar should be done with extreme knowledge and caution.  Smaller cedar debris can be used as bird and reptile cover, as a deer exclosure around hardwood regeneration, or to slow down water on slopes.

Remember Wildlife (see also Wildlife Management)

Brush has irreplaceable wildlife benefits when managed properly.  Cover, edge-effect, and food are uses for brush.  Brush benefits many kinds of birds, reptiles, and mammals.  It is also important to research the endangered species in your area to see if brush management may impact their habitat.



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