There is a patch of dirt on a hill covered with this plant (shown below). I'd like to pull them all out and make room for flowers and such. The second photo shows that the roots of this sucker go way down there. I'd like to pull them out completely rather than cutting, but on some of these I've yanked as hard as I can and they still won't budge. Any advice other than go to the gym?

Click to enlarge
mystery plant deep roots

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    How steep is the hill? Just beware when pulling out an aggressive root system like this that you may not have much left to hold the soil if this is a slope that is at risk of erosion. You might consider cutting the roots like winwaed mentions in his answer just so there's something in the soil to keep the hill from washing while your replacement plants are establishing. (I don't know how aggressively Mahonia will try to resprout, so take that advice with a grain of salt...)
    – bstpierre
    Jul 26, 2011 at 2:05

2 Answers 2


From the shape of the leaves and the smooth, glossy texture of the leaves, I would say it's some kind of Holly.

Or it could be something like:

  • Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
  • False holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus)

The secret of pulling any weed (plant) out of the ground (root and all) is to soak (via a garden hose) the ground really well beforehand, or go out there immediately after a really good down-pouring.

Then grab the weed (plant) firmly and as close to the soil line as possible, then pull slowly.

Once you've pulled a few inches of the weed (plant) out of the ground, move your hands back down the weed (plant), so you're once again grabbing it firmly and close to the soil line, then pull slowly. Repeat, repeat...

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    Personally, I find it easier to get stuff out of the ground when the soil's bone dry. Otherwise, my hands slip on the muddy stem I'm trying to extract. I guess it's a case of 'your mileage may vary'.
    – Mal Ross
    Jul 23, 2011 at 23:07
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    @Mal : it depends on the soil composition ... but adding water's something you can control ... we can't always luck out and get a drought before we go weeding.
    – Joe
    Jul 24, 2011 at 23:15
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    @Mike Perry: Yes, the plant in the photos has red stems and toothed, opposite leaves and is almost certainly Mahonia aquifolium - see mahonia.co.uk. I have the 'Charity' variety - its yellow flowers certainly brighten up the garden during those long winter months.. Jul 25, 2011 at 21:29

Pulling a plant with a very big tap root can be very difficult if not impossible. Water can help (I find it helps a lot with shallow weeds and grass), but you may well have to cut it.

Cutting the tap root as far down as possible with a sharp spade may be sufficient.

For good measure you could brush some "bush-b-gon" (woody plant) type weedkiller on the cut stem or root. This is usually sufficient to stop most things coming back and is extremely localized (ie. You won't kill anything else - unlike a spray).

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