As you can imagine, when writing a gardening advice column, your inbox can be an endless source of entertainment.
“How long should I compost cricket manure?” (This is actually a thing…)
“How do I direct the sun into my shade garden?”
“Can you tell me the Russian sage is from Kentucky?”
Some may leave you scratching your head, while others, intentionally or unintentionally, raise great questions.
One topic that seems to be ubiquitous in email inboxes is how to manage invasive plants in “natural” landscapes. A quick online search will reveal all kinds of information on how to get rid of this or that invasive plant. The challenge, however, is what to do after removing the harmful plants.
So here’s the situation: You have a tenth or half an acre or maybe 2 or 3 or 5 acres. When they moved in a few years ago, the property was overrun with Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackiiAutumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata) and burning bush (Euonymus Alatus) – all known and wild raiding thugs – and all strangling the bottom layer in the forest. You’ve spent the last couple of years clearing your property of those nasty plant things.
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And here the questions begin-
What kind of spray can I use to prevent the invasive plants from coming back into the garden?
After the invasive plants are removed, you can bet that the soil is what we call a “healthy seed bank”. Planting honeysuckle, burning bush, and harvest olives (or any other popular invasive plant name) on your site means tons of seeds are sitting underground, waiting for their chance to shine.
The only way to defeat the invasive seed bank is to use pre-emergent herbicides. Pre-emergents are made by killing the young, tender seedlings after they have sprouted and before they are well established. The problem with this approach is one, most invasive tree species are not well controlled by run-of-the-mill pre-emergent pesticides, and two, there are no species pre-emergents. They can ultimately suppress the regeneration of indigenous species represented in the soil seed bank.
What can I plant to keep the invasive plants from coming back?
A good gardener knows that nature hates a vacuum. Whether it’s a storm-triggered blast through a dense forest or a few old bushes uprooted, or open, newly disturbed ground with sunlight and a little moisture, you have a recipe for a quick burst of sprouting and growth. . Basically eliminate the competition and go native or foreign.
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Farmers know that weed control is very important and difficult when planting a corn or bean crop – as far as the closed crop stage is concerned – the stage where the desired crop plants can absorb the most sunlight and help suppress emerging weeds. From bottom to top.
The challenge with our woody invasive species management is that most of these invasives are shade tolerant. They are remarkably well adapted to low light conditions and are vigorous growers. In fact, if you think about it, the reason they are so invasive is that the word “invasive” is commonly defined as a plant that spreads into an established natural environment and displaces existing native plants. That situation than the current native species.
There are many native species that can be planted in these conditions – spice bush (Lindera Benzoin), Eastern Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus), strawberry bush (Euonymus Americanus) are a few favorites – but they’re shy growers compared to more aggressive invaders and simply aren’t up to the challenge on their own.
So if we can’t spray something to keep the invaders from coming back, and if we can’t plant something to compete with the invaders, what are we left with?
What should I look for to identify invasive plants in my garden?
The answer is that we need to stop thinking of these conditions as “natural landscapes” and think of them as gardens. Now don’t go all nuclear on me here – I’m not suggesting we destroy all woodlands and replace them with English cottage gardens. Instead, I propose that we change our approach to protecting these areas.
Good garden management uses a combination of skills to effectively attack weeds and get the most out of the plants we want there. We can do the same in non-garden and more forested landscapes and as you can probably guess, that process certainly doesn’t remove the invaders and then you can sit back, gin and tonic in hand and enjoy your cleanup. Wood for the next 10 years.
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As with any weedy garden, once you clear it, you know that’s just the beginning. You have to be diligent and keep an eye out for the next weed seedling – and then be prepared with your favorite hoe, appropriate gloves or other favorite horticultural destruction tools. And the same goes for your cleaned wood.
Regular walks through the newly cleared forest will keep you on the lookout for what’s emerging from the ground, give you a chance to remove established invaders, and possibly encourage new desirable plants – whether planted by you or emerging from the seed bank. .
You can nurture those new baby plants with a little rotting cricket manure!
Paul Capillo is executive director at Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, 6220 Old Lagrange Road, yewdellgardens.org.