Tom's Blog

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Controlling invasive plants: skills versus strategies

The skills needed to remove invasive plants are deceptively easy to learn. Cutting, pulling, digging, and girdling require little formal training. (That’s why volunteers can be used.) Even spraying is a straightforward activity.

However, the strategies involved are much more difficult. DANGER! If you use the wrong strategy you may be doing more harm than good, or at least may be wasting your time. In my 25 years of restoration work I have watched some strategies completely fail, most of which were applied out of ignorance.

Key strategies: Recognition, identification, timing, choosing the appropriate technique, (mechanical or chemical?), team organization. Knowledge and judgement are key.

Developing strategies: Start with knowledge of the bad actors, read the scientific literature, government manuals (but don’t assume they are infallible). Use the Internet judiciously. Especially avoid undocumented suggestions from others. (Lots of misinformation is passed around.)

Learn the important plant characteristics: monocot or dicot; Latin name; life cycle; clonality; habitat; phenology; annual, biennial, or perennial; herbaceous or woody.

Important items: Early detection monitoring, location maps, risk assessment (triage, see below), measurement (size of population; scattered, patchy, massive), identification, timing (season), choosing the appropriate technique, (mechanical or chemical; often combined).

Understand herbicide chemistry, biochemistry, fate in soil or environment. Read the label. Experiment! Mark your experiments with flags or stakes. With rare exceptions, you can’t eradicate invasive plants without at least some use of herbicides.

Nothing can replace extensive field experience! Get out there and take notes

Risk assessment (triage). Place the target into one of these 5 categories
1.     Eradicate everywhere
2.     Eradicate in high-quality areas
3.     Control spread
4.     Control if time available
5.     Ignore [can’t stand competition?]

Early detection is important

Set up a thorough survey method; AT DIFFERENT SEASONS OF THE YEAR!!

Use of a plant’s characteristics to help detect it: fall color; flowering (especially important); early appearance; size; habitat (prairie, savanna, woodland, wetland); legacy effects (history of the site).

Keep coming back to sites already restored, because it is almost certain there will be more plants to deal with, either plants missed or new growth. Don’t assume the site is clean! Unfortunate but true.

Don’t let the word “native” seduce you. Among others, sandbar willow, Canada goldenrod, and smooth sumac are native, but are generally “malignant” under present conditions.

For successful invasive plant control, a strong work ethic is needed. Get it done!

Don’t let these things happen:
·       You pulled the wrong thing.
·       You sprayed the wrong thing.
·       You worked at the wrong time.
·       You worked at the wrong site.

If you are using contractors, monitor them closely. Until they have a “track record”, it is best to have a manager on the site while a contractor is working.


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