Industrial Strength

A single tree coming into contact with a high-voltage transmission line can cause an electrical failure that affects millions of customers. Vegetation that hinders line of sight on a road or serves as a collision obstacle can lead to a fatal accident. Weeds growing on railroad ballast may obscure a defect in the track. These settings are examples of where vegetation needs to be managed to maintain function of a man-made system. The emphasis is not on aesthetics and the funding available to do the work is usually a tiny fraction of your overall budget.

Examples of industrial vegetation management include maintaining visibility and clearance along roadsides and railroads; managing brush along electric rights-of-way (ROW) to prevent trees from contacting the conductors; maximizing access along pipeline or cable ROW to facilitate maintenance and repairs; preventing vegetation from growing along highway guide rails and railroad ballast to facilitate drainage and inspection; preventing vegetation in electrical substations, petroleum tank farms and factory sites to ease inspection, reduce cover for vermin and reduce fire hazards; and controlling noxious and invasive weeds for regulatory compliance and to act as a good neighbor.

Industrial vegetation management requires high production from limited resources. This is summarized in a few concepts:

  • Manage, not manicure

    The primary consideration when designing your program is how to achieve the objective and stay on budget. The aesthetics of the operation needs to be lower on your list of criteria.

  • Avoid “fighting fires” - practice preventive maintenance

    The response of vegetation to management practices is fairly predictable. Schedule your operations to be done before the vegetation reaches the problem stage.

  • Spend the money once to get it done right

    Labor is the most costly element in your operation. It's “one step forward, two steps back” if you try to cut costs on an application but have to come back and re-treat. Also, invest in the necessary training so that your applicators and operators use the right equipment the right way the first time. Sophisticated equipment and carefully considered treatments will not be effective if the person on the spray gun or at the wheel has not received the proper training.


The best way to design your program is to follow the well-established principles of Integrated Pest Management, or more specifically, Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM). IVM is a way to take a strategic planning approach to managing vegetation. IVM can be summarized with a few key points:

  • Clearly define your objectives

    You need a mission statement that is in operational terms. You can't determine which weeds pose problems for your situation until your objectives are clear.

  • Define your targets and thresholds

    With a clear mission statement, you can determine which plants are weeds for your setting, and where they need to be or how many have to be there before they need to be targeted.

  • Scouting and inventory

    In agricultural crops, scouting can be a separate activity, where pest severity and location is documented and used to schedule a treatment. This approach certainly can be used in an industrial setting and is often referred to as prescription treatment. Another approach is to do the scouting during the operation. Rather than paying for two trips down a corridor or to a site, provide the applicators and operators the objectives and target information to make the treatment decision during the course of the operation.

  • Use all treatment methods at your disposal

    Make sure to use as many management techniques as practical. Control measures are broadly categorized into the following groups:

  1. Mechanical: operations that physically damage the weed, such as cutting or digging. Forms of mechanical tools include chainsaws, mowers and other clearing implements, as well as tillage tools.

  2. Cultural: techniques that enhance desirable vegetation. A common example is establishing a competitive, easier-to-maintain groundcover after highway construction.

  3. Biological: using one organism to suppress another organism. The familiar examples are classical biological control, where you introduce an insect or disease to prey on or parasitize a plant or insect pest. Ecological control is a combination of the cultural and biological control concepts, where competitive groundcovers are fostered and preserved to make it more difficult for weed species to reinfest an area after treatment.

  4. Chemical: the use of herbicides to control weeds. There is a wide array of active ingredients and application techniques, making it possible to achieve everything from bare ground to a mixed-species plant community that suppresses weeds and provides benefits such as wildlife habitat.

A key concept to using multiple methods is to integrate or coordinate their use so that they complement each other. For example, mechanically clearing woody vegetation is much more effective if you also use herbicides to prevent or eliminate regrowth. There are several mowing devices on the market that clear woody vegetation and treat the remaining stumps in a single pass. Another example is an herbicide treatment that preserves competitive groundcover through the use of selective chemistry or selective application techniques.

  • Monitoring

    After a treatment, it is vital to inspect the work. Only by reviewing the results of the operation can you determine if the treatment was effective and if the applicators and operators are working effectively.


Evaluate the expertise and resources at your disposal to choose the most effective way to accomplish your scouting, operations and monitoring. A common characteristic of industrial vegetation management is that the manager is responsible for a lot of acres and has a very limited number of people to manage them. Do you invest your expertise in pre-application scouting to develop localized application procedure, or do you invest your expertise to provide training to your applicators so they can make target decisions? In either approach, follow up the operation and monitor its success. You are one person with a finite amount of time, and you need to decide where your time is best spent.

Another issue you have to contend with is efficient use of your application crew and operators. You get more reliable field information from applicators and operators when you can retain their services over several seasons and through repeat cycles. This is best accomplished by keeping them busy (in other words, paid) and reducing turnover. Develop contingency activities so that when crew members call in sick or weather conditions threaten your intended activities, you can get work done with a reduced complement or by using a different operation. The best vegetation management plan is useless if you do not have skilled people at your disposal to get it done.


  • Non-selective herbicide applications

    This approach is used for settings where bare ground is desired. Use combination of herbicides to control the existing vegetation and provide residual activity to prevent regrowth. You need to make these applications early in the growing season to be most effective. Late season applications can certainly control the weeds that are present, but the remaining dead stems and residue still hinder drainage and visibility and pose more of a fire hazard.

  • Selective herbicide applications

    This application eliminates the target weeds and leaves vegetation that is desirable, or at least not a problem. The selectivity can come from the chemistry, as well as from the application technique. Broadcast application of mixtures of broadleaf herbicides such as 2,4-D, dicamba or triclopyr will control brush and leave grasses behind. Non-selective herbicide mixtures can be spot-applied to target weeds only, leaving desirable vegetation unharmed.

  • Plant growth regulator (PGR) applications

    Products are available to regulate the growth of turf or trees. When applied to turf, PGRs can reduce your need to mow, either by reducing the number of cycles, or by reducing the biomass being cut. You can also use PGRs on trees growing under electric lines in residential settings to reduce the amount of trimming required or to lengthen the cycle between trimmings.

  • Mowing

    Mowing can be a mechanical or cultural control. Where you need to restore sight distance at intersections or on curves, there is no substitute for mowing. However, this is not an efficient use of resources when woody plants or tall weeds are mowed, then repeatedly mowed because they grow back. Add an herbicide application to the cycle to maintain the clearance mowing has provided. On turf areas such as roadsides and airports, mowing high (6 to 8 inches) and infrequently (1 to 3 times per year) will maintain the integrity of the turf and provide an appearance appropriate to the site.

  • Brushing and tree trimming

    This is probably the most labor- and hardware-intensive activity and, therefore, the most expensive. Sometimes this is an unavoidable activity, such as in narrow ROW where branches from trees originating off the ROW need to be trimmed to maintain clearance. Otherwise, you should regard this as a last resort, and prevent it by controlling trees when they are small. The investment in brushing and clearing is best preserved by making sure the tree does not grow back. Treat the stumps at the time of cutting, or schedule a follow-up herbicide application when the resprouts are still small.


Vegetation management techniques are available to allow you to be operational all year. Your role as manager requires that you size up your objectives and your resources and develop a plan to get as much done as possible, and to try to bring your system into a preventive maintenance or proactive mode, rather than a fire-fighting or reactive mode.

Examples, by active ingredient and trade name, of herbicides used in different settings for industrial vegetation management.
Active Ingredients Example Trade Names
Herbicides for Maintaining Bare Ground
bromacil + diuron Krovar I, DiBro 2+2
diuron Karmex, Diuron, Direx
imazapic Plateau
imazapyr + diuron Sahara
oryzalin Surflan
pendimethalin Pendulum
prodiamine Endurance
prometon Pramitol, Sonora
sulfometuron Oust XP, Spyder
sulfometuron + metsulfuron Oust Extra
tebuthiuron Spike
Non-selective, Non-residual Herbicides
glyphosate Roundup Pro, GlyPro Plus, Razor Pro, Glyphomate 41, many others
glufosinate Finale, Derringer
diquat Reward
Herbicides for Brush Control
2,4-D combinations Brush Killer 800, Crossbow, Patron 170, Tordon 101M
dicamba Vanquish, Diablo
fosamine Krenite S
glyphosate Roundup Pro, GlyPro Plus, Razor Pro, Glyphomate 41, many others
imazapyr Arsenal, Habitat
metsulfuron Escort XP, Patriot
picloram Tordon
triclopyr Garlon, Tahoe, Triclopyr
Herbicides for Broadleaf Weed Control
2,4-D combinations Crossbow, Millennium, Momentum, SpeedZone, Trimec, Tri-Amine, Triplet, many others
carfentrazone QuickSilver
clopyralid Transline
chlorsulfuron Telar,
dicamba Vanquish, Diablo
metsulfuron Escort XP, Patriot
picloram Tordon
triclopyr Garlon, Tahoe, Triclopyr
Other Weed or Brush Herbicides
hexazinone Velpar
imazapic Plateau
imazapyr Arsenal, Habitat
Industrial Turf Growth Regulators
chlorsulfuron Telar
glyphosate Roundup Pro, GlyPro Plus, Razor Pro, Glyphomate 41, many others
imazapic Plateau
mefluidide Embark
mefluidide + imazethapyr + imazapyr Stronghold
metsulfuron Escort XP, Patriot
Integrated Mowing/Herbicide Application Devices
Brown Brush Monitor
Diamond Wet-Blade

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