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Managing Invasive Plants

Managing Invasive Plants

By Melinda Myers for Milorganite
Photographs by Melinda Myers, LLC

Invasive plants like purple loosestrife, buckthorn, and honeysuckle were promoted and sold as low maintenance landscape plants. They have since left the garden and are wreaking havoc on our natural spaces. They move in, take over, and crowd out native plants, destroying the food and habitat needed by beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife.

Invasive plants spread into nearby natural areas and reproduce rapidly by seed or bits of stems, roots, and rhizomes. The seeds and plant pieces move by wind, birds, wildlife and people to nearby natural habitats. Once these take root, they quickly form dense stands crowding out native plants.

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Door swags and wreaths are another way invasive plants like teasel and Chinese bittersweet escape to our natural spaces. Their seeds are released from the decorations into nearby gardens where they grow and eventually spread to and overwhelm natural areas.

Removing invasive plants not only helps support native ecosystems and wildlife, it can help reduce disease-carrying tick populations in the landscape. Research studies found that the presence of invasive Japanese barberry and honeysuckle create the perfect habitat for white tail deer and disease-carrying ticks.

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Garlic mustard

Tackling invasive plants can be an overwhelming task. The seed reserves and presence of invasive plants in neighboring landscapes makes eliminating them a challenging and long-term process. Reducing tick populations, freeing wildflowers, creating bird-friendly habitats and uncovering cherished plants are just a few of the many rewards.

Remove and destroy any small invasive plant infestations as soon as they are discovered. Continue to monitor these and other areas in your landscape.  Get your neighbors to do the same. If everyone works together the seed source begins to dwindle and you all experience greater success.

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Tackle areas with dense populations of invasive plants one section at a time. Start in the outermost areas where there are fewer invasive plants. This helps prevent their spread into surrounding areas, helping to contain the problem.

Next tackle the area between the densely populated epicenter of the invasion and the outer area. You reduce the size of the infestation while helping stop the spread into the outer area you already cleared.

Once the surrounding areas are under control, start thinning and managing the epicenter of the infestation. Continue to monitor and remove invasive plants in the surrounding area.

Clean clothes and boots after removing invasive plants to avoid further spread. Always dress appropriately and check for ticks when working in tick-infested areas.

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Crown vetch

Contact your local municipality for tips on disposing of invasive plants. Many allow these materials to be added to the trash and buried in landfills to prevent the spread. Composting is usually not effective. Most compost piles do not reach high enough temperatures throughout the pile to kill the plants and all the seeds. Those that are not killed end up back in the landscape along with the compost.

As you manage invasive plants, watch for wildflowers and other native plants to appear as the competition is eliminated. Avoid creating more work in the future by adding native plants whenever appropriate. Growing these and noninvasive plants is good for the environment and our health.

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