I have some plants growing here in northern Wisconsin, and I'm worried about poachers (of course). Anyways the plants are in full red berries by mid August and the hunting season opens September 1st. If I topped my plants in the last week of August, do you think that would kill them?
IMHO I do not think it would hurt them to top them in late August. Here is some food for thought though. Poachers start hunting ginseng as soon as it comes up in the spring. Chances are if a poacher were to find your plants it could be way earlier than August. Also it sounds like you are going to wait until the berries are ripe before you top them which is good so you can plant the seeds.
So I am not sure if topping is going to help all that much. Now topping them when they turn yellow may help deter them being found by a newbie poacher, but an experienced poacher is going to find them at anytime they are looking.
One last thing, when the plant top starts to die down, a lot of the sap moves back into the root which is a good thing. It must be a good thing to let this happen as mother nature intended. Not sure what the long term outcome would be to the root if it was topped in multiple years.
I don't think my response helped you all that much and I sure hope you and all of the rest of us do not get hit by these poachers out there.
I too have some really nice spots now with a lot of big 5 to 6 year old four prongs and they are self seeding now as I have many small plants sprouting underneath them. Every year I just keep my fingers crossed that they do not find my spot. So far I have been lucky and have yet to top them when they turn yellow. However, I have thought about it though.
A ginseng plant that is producing berries, has a decent root on it, and even if you topped it in early spring (after it first came up) it would not kill it (as in you would never see it again).
The root would develop a bud spur, and send up a top the next spring.
Deer top them all of the time, spring, summer, fall, and they normally come back the next spring. Occasionally they will lie dormant and not send up a top for a year or more, but then send up a top the next year.
I would think that you would do little if any harm to it if you topped it after berries were red.
Letting it run the full coarse naturally would definitely be best. Not sure if there are any studies out there on exactly how early you can top ginseng, without causing some degradation to the plant/root system.
No doubt if you topped it too early too often, the root would eventually give up and stop sending up a top. I expect that would take several years though. Ginseng is a SURVIVOR... and will fight to the very end.
I had a little 3 prong several years back that had the unfortunate luck to have two trees die just to the west of it (lightning strike). That let in the hot evening sun and was hard on the plant. I left it there for 3 years and observed what happend. The first year the top died in early June, the second year it died in late June, the 3rd year, it made it all the way to having a nice wad of green berries and then it died. I transplanted it after that.
In those 3 years, the open space that was made from the two trees that died, eventually was taken up by other trees that grew, or sent limbs into that space and filled it in. That is why it made it a little longer each year.
But even though it died early those 3 years, it still increased in size some and it went from not producing berries, to producing a nice little wad of berries.