The Dundalk Eagle

Go­ing Na­tive: In­va­sive Plant Re­moval

- By ERIN WATTS, DEPART­MENT OF EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL PRO­TEC­TION AND SUS­TAIN­ABIL­ITY Gardening · Animals · Farm Equipment · Botany · Ecology · Ecosystem · Hobbies · Wildlife · Agriculture · Industries · Biology · Atlantic Ocean · National Park Service · United States Fish and Wildlife Service · United States of America · Baltimore · Plants

As a nat­u­ral re­source spe­cial­ist, I am of­ten asked the ques­tion, “Is this a weed?” How­ever, there is no “yes or no” an­swer to this ques­tion be­cause a weed is merely an un­wanted plant. I pre­fer the ques­tion, “Does this plant be­long here?” Peo­ple have car­ried plants and seeds from one part of the world to an­other for cen­turies. When some plants are in­tro­duced to a new area, they be­come in­va­sive. Th­ese are plants you likely have seen tak­ing over a gar­den or nat­u­ral area. Non-na­tive plants are also called, “ex­otic,” or, “alien.” Non-na­tive, in­va­sive plants present a prob­lem be­cause all the parts of an ecosys­tem evolve to­gether. When our na­tive plants are out­com­peted for light, nu­tri­ents and space, they no longer pro­vide re­sources for the ecosys­tem. For ex­am­ple, spring wild­flow­ers are dis­ap­pear­ing, crowded out by gar­lic mus­tard (Euro­pean) and Ja­panese stilt­grass, and trees smoth­ered in English ivy are threat­ened by ex­tra weight and de­cay from trapped or­ganic ma­te­rial and mois­ture, which can kill a tree. There­fore, in­va­sive plants should be re­moved. Many in­va­sive plants, such as gar­lic mus­tard and wavyleaf bas­ket­grass, are eas­ily re­moved by hand. Some larger shrubs, such as mul­ti­flora rose and bay­berry, re­quire cut­ting and dig­ging. If pos­si­ble, choose th­ese me­chan­i­cal meth­ods over her­bi­cides. In some cases, se­lect her­bi­cides are war­ranted to pre­vent per­sis­tent re­growth of cer­tain species, such as tree of heaven, as well as for large in­fes­ta­tions and for species that spread by roots (Canada this­tle). For more in­for­ma­tion, re­fer to Plant In­vaders of Mid-At­lantic Nat­u­ral Ar­eas, an au­thor­i­ta­tive guide with re­moval in­struc­tion pro­vided by the Na­tional Park Ser­vice and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice. A yard is a great place to start tack­ling in­va­sives. If you don’t have a yard, there are plenty of ar­eas that could use your help, just be sure to get the landowner’s per­mis­sion. Once the risk of COVID-19 has eased, our Baltimore County water­shed as­so­ci­a­tions are a great source for in­va­sive re­moval work­shops. Learn from the pros and help pro­tect your water­shed! • Iden­tify plants ac­cu­rately, and avoid pulling na­tives. • Wear sturdy gloves. • Work in damp soil to get as many roots as pos­si­ble. • Re­move plants be­fore seeds de­velop. • Set out pulled in­va­sive plants with your yard ma­te­ri­als, if you’re a Baltimore County res­i­dent with a sep­a­rate “Y” col­lec­tion day; oth­er­wise, dis­pose of th­ese plants in the trash. • Do not put in­va­sives into your com­post at home to avoid po­ten­tial spread later. • Let vines in trees die in place to avoid break­ing branches from pulling. • Some in­va­sives are sold in stores–don’t buy them. Suc­cess­ful in­va­sive plant re­moval re­quires a watch­ful eye and on­go­ing treat­ment, but a health­ier ecosys­tem is worth it. Pulling “weeds” also helps us to un­wind, so lis­ten to the birds and en­joy. Spe­cial thanks to the 5th grader from Rodgers Forge Ele­men­tary School who asked the ques­tion that prompted this blog post.

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