Tips for keeping invasive plants at bay
Invasive non-native bushes, vines and other plants are here to stay, it seems, but residents of the Bay watershed can save their yards and even some parks, invasive plant experts agree. They offer these tips:
1) Know what’s growing in your yard.
“The most important — No. 1 — thing that a landowner can do is to learn to recognize things that don’t belong,” said Kerry Kyde, invasive plant coordinator at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Invasive plants left alone can gradually overwhelm their native counterparts and kill even grown trees.
Hundreds of plants that originated outside the United States are invasive to some degree in the Bay watershed. Fortunately, only a small number of them account for the vast majority of the devastation.
Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas, a guide prepared by the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, covers 52 invasive plants.
The Nature Conservancy has a brochure, Terrestrial Invasive Plants of the Potomac River Watershed, that features pictures of 10 especially widespread invasives and advice on removing them.
2) Keep invasives in your yard from spreading.
The plants that homeowners have in their yards have important impacts beyond their property lines, said Karan Rawlins, invasive species coordinator at the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health.
Birds will eat the berries of native and non-native plants and spread the seeds “far beyond your yard,” Rawlins said.
“What you plant in your yard is important, but you don’t need to be a native plant Nazi,” Rawlins added. “If there’s an invasive plant you can’t abide removing, keep it but always remove the flowers before they go to seed.”
3) Root out invasives whenever you can, but be careful how you dispose of them.
Kerrie Kyde, the Maryland invasive plant coordinator, urged homeowners to monitor their yards and take action promptly if a plant begins to grow beyond where it was planted, or a new plant takes root uninvited. Take precautions to remove the unwanted vegetation and then plant natives in its place.
“We have so many native plants to choose from, and a lot of native plants are really pretty,” Kyde said.
One challenge of restoration is knowing when to remove invasive plants and when not to. When the plants have berries or seeds is not the right time, because they will spread the seeds and make matters worse, Kyde explained.
Residents with and without yards can also help by not automatically tossing their no-longer-wanted houseplants in the nearest park, woods or creek — or even in their yard waste cans, if the locality has such collections.
Carole Bergmann, a forest ecologist with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and head of Montgomery County’s weed warrior program, recommended putting houseplants — including English ivy and other invasives — in plastic bags and then in the trash can. The same goes for berry-adorned boughs on holiday trimmings and wreaths.
4) Pitch in at a park near you.
“A really healthy park with full complement of native species will stay beautiful,” Rawlins said, but only if people quickly detect the emergence of invasive plants and aggressively remove them. That does not take much time but it requires perpetual vigilance.
Recapturing a local park that is badly infested is a much bigger challenge but can be done. Rawlins said it typically takes three-to-five years of intensive effort, including the very selective use of herbicides.
“It’s amazing what we can accomplish together,” Rawlins said.
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