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Lakeville Journal
Don’t befriend invasive plants, they’ll take over your backyard
By Cynthia Hochswender
    October 1, 2009

SALISBURY — Because late summer/early autumn is an excellent time to kill non-native invasive plants, the Nature Conservancy and the Salisbury Parks and Forest Commission offered a workshop on Saturday, Sept. 19, at Hanging Rock Park, just up the hill from Town Hall.

The Nature Conservancy is a national group dedicated to protecting biodiversity. It has an office in Sheffield, Mass., and it owns, shares or maintains several large spreads of undeveloped land, sometimes in partnership with town land trusts.

Jessica Toro came down to Salisbury for the day, at the invitation of Chairman Tony Scoville and other members of the Parks and Forest Commission. Her mission was to show how non-natives can be controlled. Her reasons: they kill the native plants, they can have a devastating impact on local animals, and they offer a home to unwanted creatures such as Lyme ticks.

“Invasives have a negative effect on our lives for a variety of reasons,” she said.

Of course, her advice on how to kill non-native invasives can be extended to native invasives, which can be just as annoying to gardeners as the aggressive outsiders.

But because those outsiders are so aggressive, most landowners in the Northwest Corner are eager to take on super-weeds such as barberry, honeysuckle, bittersweet and the beautiful but dangerous multiflora rosa.

A dozen or so people attended the workshop — doused in bug repellent and wearing long pants, long sleeves and tall shoes, as protection against ticks and the abundant poison ivy that blankets the park. They were rewarded for their attendance with a free copy of the Nature Conservancy’s Guide to Invasive Plants, a small paperback that shows photos of common but unwelcome Northwest Corner shrubs, vines, herbs, grasses and aquatic plants. Copies of the book can be purchased from The Nature Conservancy.

A feeling of hopelessness is likely to overcome any landowner who looks through this book and then looks through his or her yard. But Toro remained upbeat and promised that these plants can in fact be managed.

“The key is prevention,” she said. “The more we reduce the spread of these plants, the better off we’ll be.”

Some plants, such as the ubiquitous garlic mustard, must be plucked from the ground by hand. The best time to do so, she advised, is in May, before they have sprouted white flowers and begun to seed. By June, she said, if they are picked they must be bagged and then thrown in the general garbage hopper.

Others must be treated with herbicide. While many Northwest Corner residents are opposed to using any chemicals on their property, Toro said that there is no way to stop some of these plants without the use of herbicides. She recommended products made with an ingredient called glyphosate, which must be combined with a surfectant that helps bind the herbicide to the plant.

This herbicide has been in use for many years and, unless it is ingested in large quantities, will not hurt children or pets, she said.

When it combines with soil, she added, it becomes inactive, unlike previous generations of herbicides.

However, she was adamant that the instructions must be carefully read and followed.

“What the label says, what those instructions tell you, is literally the law,” she said. “If you use these products and do  not follow the instructions, you are breaking the law.”

Not only that, you are also taking a chance that you will not get the results you were looking for. One national brand that she recommended is Round Up, which is commonly available and has those two key ingredients. Buy a spray bottle (that you will use only for this herbicide and nothing else) and dilute the contents with water, according to the instructions.

There are two ways to apply the glyphosate: on the leaves and on the stump. You will use a different dilution level for the two different methods; the label will explain how to do it.

If you choose to spray the leaves, she warned, you must get the herbicide on at least 50 to 60 percent of the leaf surface. Get the leaves wet, but not so wet that there is runoff.

If you choose to spray the stumps, cut the plant off a few inches above the ground; this will make it easier if you have to reapply in a week or two. Spray or “paint” the exposed stump.

Toro recommends leaving the cut branches, trunks, leaves or vines in place for at least a week or two.

“That way you can see which areas you’ve treated,” she said.

If the application was successful, the plant should begin to turn brown and show signs of death within a week or 10 days.

“It’s sometimes hard to tell at this time of year,” she said, “because the plants are beginning to turn brown and die off anyway.”

The results should be apparent by next spring, though. Even though fall can disguise the effectiveness of the treatment, she said, this is an especially good time to try and stop the spread of invasives. The plants have all flushed their systems in preparation for winter and their energy stores are depleted.

Early spring is the other most effective time to treat invasives, just after the plants have made their entry into your garden and woodlands.

There are dozens of Web sites dedicated to controlling non-native invasives; The Nature Conservancy’s is at tncweeds.ucdavis.edu. The University of Connecticut Web site is at invasives.eeb.uconn.edu/ipane.

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