Woody Plant Species: Control and Communication Strategies

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Utility manager on the phone

A variety of trees and woody plant species can provide multiple benefits to landowners and the environment. However, they also can threaten electrical transmission reliability. Adapting the right practices to effectively treat incompatible vegetation and address public scrutiny can make a world of difference for utility vegetation managers.

Ensuring electrical transmission reliability and pleasing the general public are two tasks that are tough to juggle for utility vegetation managers. Countless trees and woody plant species can threaten utility infrastructure, but they also are beloved by landowners and land entities for their aesthetic appeal and environmental benefits. In addition to improving air and water quality, many species can reduce noise pollution for landowners and provide food sources to grazing animals. Despite these desirable influences, many trees are incompatible with land dedicated to electrical transmission lines and utility infrastructure.

Trees and other woody plants often present obstacles for utility companies working to provide safe and reliable service to millions of customers across the country. From sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) and black locust (Robinia psuedoacacia) to elm (Ulmus) and hickory (Carya) species, trees that are planted too close to or directly under transmission lines can come into contact with utility equipment when they die or are affected by wind and ice storms. This isn’t to say that all trees are problematic; only those that impede right-of-way accessibility or pose a threat to grow or fall into nearby powerlines.

To prevent trees and other woody plant species from interfering with utility infrastructure, vegetation managers have commonly relied on mechanical mowing and trimming strategies. However, these practices can be costly, time consuming and ineffective in the long run. When used exclusively, mechanical control methods stimulate regrowth, which creates continuous maintenance requirements that are increasingly difficult to address from one year to the next. 

A variety of trees and woody plant species pose a risk to grow or fall into powerlines across the country.


Mowing and trimming practices are also nonselective, meaning they control all vegetation in their path. This can be devastating for native wildlife species that rely on food resources and shelter provided by biodiverse habitat. Lucky for vegetation managers and wildlife species alike, alternative control methods are quickly becoming industry best practices for environmentally minded vegetation managers.

Chemical Control Methods

Instead of using large mowing equipment that wreaks havoc on native plant communities, ground equipment can be used to complete herbicide applications that achieve woody plant control through utility rights-of-way and other noncrop sites. Per each product label, recommended usage rates will vary for each application site and whenever tank-mix partners are used. However, for each of the following application methods, Vastlan® herbicide from Corteva Agriscience can be used to control dozens of trees and other woody plant species, including Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), maples (Acer), oaks (Quercus), elms and sweetgum.

  • High-volume foliar
  • Low-volume foliar
  • Cut surface treatments (tree injector, hack and squirt, frill or girdle, and cut-stump)
  • Chemical mowing


Practitioners also can use chemical side-trim applications to control specific limbs or sides of trees that are likely to come into contact with overhead powerlines. In fact, Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) currently uses chemical side-trimming applications to selectively control portions of trees, including hackberries, elms and water oaks. This approach has improved not only cost efficiency and productivity for OG&E, but also the development of native plant communities that represent biodiverse habitat for native wildlife species.

Vastlan® herbicide can be used on its own to achieve woody plant control, but a tank-mix containing Vastlan and TerraVue® herbicide from Corteva also helps OG&E broaden its spectrum of control for various tree species impacting land managed by its contract partners. While this strategy helps OG&E protect desirable trees, grass-friendly herbicide applications also help the utility support the development of flowers and grasses that represent beneficial habitat for pollinator species. Together, these efforts support environmental sustainability and the effective control of incompatible vegetation throughout right-of-way corridors.

Addressing Public Scrutiny

Ensuring herbicides are properly applied is half the battle for utility vegetation managers. Despite the environmental benefits chemical control methods provide, their science and use are still misunderstood by many skeptical landowners and land entities. That’s why Corteva recently launched Notify Your Neighbor. Filled with effective communications strategies that vegetation managers can use to effectively address concerns regarding herbicide applications, Notify Your Neighbor is a resource guide that provides techniques and key messages to facilitate educational discussions with landowners and members of the general public.

Notify Your Neighbor resources provide tactics and strategies to support effective communications between vegetation managers and landowners or land entities.


There are many reasons to love different trees and woody plant species, but the fact remains that many pose a threat to damage utility infrastructure and interrupt electrical service. These events can be costly for utility companies both financially and in the eyes of the general public. Integrating herbicide applications can be the linchpin that not only enhances electrical transmission reliability, but also environmental sustainability. With the proper guidance and communications strategies on hand, today’s utilities can improve results in the field and understanding among those who take an interest in their work.

For more information on herbicide applications and the right products or strategies for the land you manage, contact a vegetation management specialist in your local area.


™ ® Trademarks of Corteva Agriscience and its affiliated companies. Under normal field conditions, TerraVue® is nonvolatile. TerraVue has no grazing or haying restrictions for any class of livestock, including lactating dairy cows, horses (including lactating mares) and meat animals prior to slaughter. Label precautions apply to forage treated with TerraVue and to manure and urine from animals that have consumed treated forage. TerraVue and Vastlan® are not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. Consult the label for full details. Always read and follow label directions. © 2022 Corteva.

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