Timeline & Activities

The Citizen Science project is expected to run through summer 2022. Participants in the project will conduct an ecological experiment to help advance our collective understanding of how we can use native plants to control buckthorn in our forests. While we are currently at capacity, you can fill out this contact form to stay informed of project activities and potential volunteer expansion in the future. 

View of forest canopy from below

Prior to spring 2020

Between summer 2019 and spring 2020, participants will identify an area ~ 30 x 40 ft where they want to set-up their project site. The site will need to meet the following three conditions:

  1. Have buckthorn present or recently present in the case of new removals. 
  2. Be set-up within a forest or woodland area with at least 50% non-buckthorn tree cover (e.g. oaks, maples, etc.).
  3. Be located on property within Minnesota.

Sites will be reviewed by the UMN research team to ensure site conditions are met.

Removal of Buckthorn

Once the area for the project is identified and confirmed with UMN research team, participants will need to remove all buckthorn stems over 1 ft tall. Participants can use any removal method that best suits their needs. The MN DNR website provides information on buckthorn removal methods. Participants who want to use herbicide can do so, but we ask that no herbicide be applied on the 30 x 40 ft project site once the plots have been planted in spring 2020. Follow-up weeding of buckthorn during the experiment will only be needed within the small experimental plots (see more on weeding below), and it's likely that herbicide treatments during the initial removal phase will reduce the need for weeding.

If you need help with buckthorn ID, check out the UMN Extension resources for for buckthorn identification tips and tools.

Project Training

In February-March 2020, the UMN research team will provide in-person training opportunities throughout the state with participating citizen scientists. Trainings will provide participants with hands-on instruction for both the initial project set-up, applying the seed mix to the plots, collecting yearly observations on the plots, and reporting findings. For those who cannot make an in-person training event, training resources will also be made available online. 

Experiment design graphic showing 30 by 40 foot buckthorn removal area and small plots where 3 will be seeded and 3 will be non-seeded

Spring 2020 (~April-May)

Set-up & Seed Mix

Within the 30 x 40 ft removal area, participants will set-up six 5x5 ft experimental plots. Three of the plots will be planted with a native seed mix containing a variety of grasses, sedges, wildflowers, shrubs and trees. The remaining three plots will be the experiment’s control plots and will not be seeded. The seed mix includes species that 1) may provide dense shade in situations ranging from fairly open woodlands through to closed forests, 2) have approximately state-wide ranges, and 3) are available locally through Minnesota seed suppliers. Follow this link for a list of species likely to be included in the seed mix.

Buckthorn seedlings planted in a circle around a flag
Testing buckthorn germination & growth

At each plot, participants will also plant test buckthorn seeds provided by the project. Buckthorn test seeds will be placed in a circle around a small flag. Using these test buckthorn seedlings, we can track the germination and growth of buckthorn during the experiment. At the end of the project, participants will remove the planted test buckthorn seedlings.

All materials needed for the experiment will be provided at no cost to participants by the University of Minnesota.

Two people collecting observations of plant growth in a 5 by 5 foot plot

Summer 2020-2022 (~August-September)

Each summer between 2020-2022, participants will collect observations about the six 5x5 ft plots, report their findings back to the program, and weed out all non-seeded buckthorn. 

Observations & Reporting

Participants will collect estimates of the percent cover of seeded native plant species, survival and growth of seeded buckthorn, and take pictures of the plots and of the tree canopy. Training and online resources will be available to help participants with collecting their observations. Findings will be reported through an online system each year. Participants will submit their findings by October 31st.


During the summer while collecting observations, participants will weed out all buckthorn that was not directly seeded by the project participants. Weeding will only be required within the six 5x5 ft plots, and instead of pulling buckthorn out of the ground, participants will simply clip buckthorn at the base of each plant.

Summer 2022 - End of Project

Once final observations have been collected in summer 2022, participants will need to remove and destroy the seeded test buckthorn from their experimental plots.