Weed Wiper

By Mike Saxton, Shaw Nature Reserve, Missouri Botanical Garden

Combatting woody encroachment continues to be a challenge for Midwestern land managers.  Whether it’s sumac in prairies, honeysuckle in the woodlands, or willows in our wetlands, brushy thickets drive down native biodiversity and bedevil our efforts to best manage the land.  Cutting and treating is effective but laborious, resource intensive, and often fails to meet the scale of the problem.  Foliar spraying/basal barking can be effective but collateral damage, especially in high quality areas, is often outside our range of tolerance.

Here at Shaw Nature Reserve (Missouri Botanical Garden site – 35 west of St. Louis), I have used this weed wiper / weed roller for a couple of field seasons to combat shingle oak Quercus imbricaria, border privet – Ligustrum obtusifolium and a few other randoms including sumac, autumn olive and Lonicera.

Our wiper is 10ft wide and we mount on a Ford 3930.  The tires are ~2ft wide and there is something like 3ft between the tires, leaving 18in on each side of the tires.  The glyphosate label says to use a 33% v/v solution with 10% v/v surfactant for a wiper application.  (label excerpt at bottom of post)

Roller is controlled by tractor hydraulics.  Sprayer is an electric pump with powerful magnet holding the spray button, operated from tractor cab. 

The implement is sturdy, nice welds, good construction.  If it was any wider, it’d be too wide.  I wouldn’t be able to nimbly slalom between desirable trees and other hazards.  When you go through topographic areas or ditches, you have to watch that the roller doesn’t hit the ground.  Dirt isn’t good for it and it’ll also will kill whatever vegetation it hits.  If it was any smaller…it would take forever and if it was smaller, too much of the total length would be taken up by tire width.  A challenge is that you have to go fairly slowly in order to roll enough herbicide onto the stems…so the slow speed is a challenge.

The biggest issue for us has been timing.  There seems to be a 3-4 week window in the spring where the woodies are sufficiently leafed out and when the native vegetation considerably shorter than the woodies.  You want to set the wiper height just above the native vegetation to ensure that you hit as much of the woodies as possible.

Above: shingle oaks in a prairie planting.  Treated on 5.26.21.  Picture from 6.8.21.  I flagged 4 of the browned oaks and checked 8.23.21 with no signs of life. 

The short shrubs, especially sumac, springs right back up after the tractor rolls over it, even when the tires roll over them.  The wiper makes good contact.  The taller woodies do not spring back up as well. 

The manual does recommend that you make a pass in one direction and a pass in the other direction.  I don’t always have time for a two-direction application.  The owner of Weed Works told me that when you stop turning the roller, if it drips within 2 seconds, you’re over saturated.  If it takes more than 8 seconds to start dripping, you’re not wet enough.  It usually takes me about 1.5hrs to go through 5 gallons. 

Above is a photo from 3-weeks post treatment of 6-7ft tall shingle oaks.  They are thumb size diameter.  These woodies have been mowed for decades…literally.  So I worried that they have a massive root system and I could just top killing them or not give them enough herbicide to effectively kill them.  1-year post treatment, the trees are crispy dead, no signs of resprout. 

I know that it won’t be a silver bullet for us…but coupling fire, foliar spraying, basal barking, weed wiper, mowing…I hope to turn the tide against the woodies.

Wiper Applicators and Sponge Bars

Wiper applicators are devices that physically wipe appropriate amounts of this product directly onto the weed. Equipment must be designed, maintained and operated to prevent the herbicide solution from contacting desirable vegetation. Operate this equipment at ground speeds no greater than 5 miles per hour. Performance may be improved by reducing speed in areas of heavy weed infestations to ensure adequate wiper saturation. Better results may be obtained if 2 applications are made in opposite directions. Avoid leakage or dripping onto desirable vegetation. Adjust height of applicator to ensure adequate contact with weeds. Keep wiping surfaces clean. Be aware that, on sloping ground, the herbicide solution may migrate, causing dripping on the lower end and drying of the wicks on the upper end of a wiper applicator. Do not use wiper equipment when weeds are wet. Mix only the amount of solution to be used during a 1-day period, as reduced activity may result from the use of leftover solutions. Clean wiper parts immediately after using this product by thoroughly flushing with water. Nonionic surfactant at a rate of 10 percent by volume of total herbicide solution is recommended with all wiper applications.  Solutions ranging from 33 to 75 percent of this product in water may be used.

About Grassland Restoration Network blog

Bill Kleiman publishes this blog. Bill's daytime job is manager of Nachusa Grasslands. We are looking for guest authors on various topics of grassland habitat restoration. Contact me with your ideas or drafts.
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3 Responses to Weed Wiper

  1. Mike Saxton says:

    An additional comments:
    -With shipping the unit cost $5,200 back in October 2019.
    -If you do not use up all of the herbicide, you can drain the tank but then you might have a few gallons of 33% v/v glyphosate with 10% v/v surfactant to find a use for. It’s not like having a couple gallons of 2% Garlon 3A to use up.
    -The roller needs to be fairly saturated in order to apply sufficient herbicide to effectively kill the shrubs. So when you’re done rolling and have an empty tank, your roller will still have herbicide in it. It will drip, slowly, all the way back to your shop. When you want to flush/clean the roller, it’s extremely difficult to catch the rinsate.

  2. Hi,

    This is very interesting thanks. I was thinking because of the limitations you mention of timing the applications and the length of time it takes to perform the application, one option would be to buy multiple systems and because of locations of preserves throughout the state applications could be performed in the southern most areas which leaf out first and then equipment cost could be shared with other preserves or organizations or entities north to south and when you’re done in the south you move the equipment up to the next preserve north of you and on and on until you’re done at the north and you can all split costs and it will be good for everyone in the end.


  3. As someone who spent one day during many weekends last winter applying triclopyr ester in oil to each stem of invasive shrubs with a mini-paint roller, I appreciate Mr. Saxton sharing his experiences with this “Weed Wiper.” Broader brush strokes will allow much more area to be covered especially in areas where quality is low.

    I have been personally struggling with what I should consider to be an acceptable “range of tolerance” of damage to off target species when I apply herbicide. I see a little herbicide damage to the forb that is prominently shown in your fifth picture. However, my experience has been that another species, rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium), will recover when showing a similarly small impact from herbicide.

    Last October, I suggested the following idea to Mr. Kleiman. A “Super Swiper”, similar to the “Weed Wiper/Weed Roller” but hand powered, could be used to treat areas thick with autumn olive and invasive bush honeysuckle. This “Super Swiper” is described in the following Illinois Nature Preserve Commission “Vegetation Management Guideline” for gray dogwood.

    Click to access vmg%20gray%20dogwood%20revised%202007.pdf

    An additional thought I had was that it might be possible to apply glyphosate on above freezing days in winter if a flail mower was used to strip the bark off stems, without actually mowing off the stems, before herbicide was applied.

    I know I will never implement the above. However, I am glad to see you using these techniques to work on the woody invasive species problem.

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