Managing Invasive Plants in Your Backyard

Burning Bush Invasive Plant

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Are some plants in your yard or garden crowding out (and even killing) other plants? They may be an invasive species which can be a big problem right in your backyard. Here are some common invasive plants and a few tips on how to manage them.

Invasive species are truly “invader” who are not natural to your area. They were imported long ago, often from Asia, for their beauty or for other reasons without the understanding that they lacked the local insects, predators, or diseases that would normally control their growth.

Invasive plants aren’t simply a plant problem. They also disrupt our natural habitat and animal wildlife. For example, fewer native milkweed would mean fewer Monarch butterflies. Honeybees and birds also look for native plants.

I have several “invaders” lingering on my property. Here is a common and very aggressive vine called Oriental Bittersweet that’s strangling—and, literally, killing—one of our trees.

Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatusstrangling a tree. Credit: USDA.gov

I also spotted these bamboo-like stalks called Japanese Knotwood that are taking over the area along my lakefront.

Japanese Knotwood (Fallopia japonica) is found among many shorelines and roads. Credit www.dcnr.state.pa.us

This past summer, I attended a talk by Louisa Birch from our local conservation commission; she specializes in invasive species. She helped me identify both of these invasive plants—which are native to China and to Japan!

Both invasive plants are very difficult to manage—and we’re still learning the best techniques. For Louisa, cutting bittersweet does not seem to work; herbicide is the only way to go. On the other hand, cutting Japanese knotwood seems to be the most effective way to slow it down; covering it with black plastic does not have much effect.

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) is one of the most common invasives.

Ever seen the attractive burning bush? Yes, I had one of these beauties on our property. For years, we all imported these bright and attractive ornamentals from Asia. Now they are illegal because they outcompete and displace natives.

However, there are wonderful alternatives to burning bush, such as the native shrub called Fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’ or Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica).

Fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’ has vivid fall foliage similar to the Burning bush. Credit: www.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca

If you’re in love with an invasive plant that is sitting on your property, there are many alternatives. For example, I can replace my invasive Oriental bittersweet with native American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens).

How to Control Invasive Plants

If you discover that you have invasive plants on your property, here are common methods of control:

• Cutting and mowing generally interrupts many plants’ ability to grow.
• For herbaceous plants with thin, woody stems (less than 1 inch in diameter), pulling and digging is often best.
• Certain plants require herbicides (best administered by a professional).
• A few plants respond best to biological controls. For example, the purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is eliminated with the help of Galerucella beetles (which you can have shipped to you via overnight courier)!
• When you do cut or pull out invasives, do not add them to compost piles; dispose of them in black plastic bags.

Stop the Spread of Invasive Plants!

What can you do? Here are a three simple ways that you can help:

1. Every state has a different list of problem plants. For example, in the South, did you know that beautiful wisteria is an invasive? Take time to learn which plants are invasive in your state at http://plants.usda.gov.  
2. Get rid of the invaders! If you think that you might have invasive plants on your property, contact your local state cooperative extension office or garden center. (You could even get them a sample of your plant.)
3. Go native! Preserve our natural flora and fauna. Many local garden centers sell native plants. ” Or, just Google “native plants” and your location, and you can find out which plants really belong where you live.

Here are more tips about how to stop the spread of invasive plants.

I hope that you found this post informative. Please let me know what you think—especially if you’ve had experience with invasive plants.
 

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

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I have found that if I want

I have found that if I want an invasive plant like Wisteria, Bamboo or the Burning bush the best way to handle it is to dig a flower bed and pour a concrete liner. For a long time I used children's swimming pools or plastic 55 gallon drums to control invasive plants. So, if you want them, just be sure they can't take over and stay where you put them.

Not all plants spread by

Not all plants spread by roots. As a matter of fact, most plants spread by seed, including burning bush. The ONLY way to control them is by not planting them.

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