Nightmare On My Street

At first they looked insignificant and harmless but these plants were really the devil in disguise. Like those really bad reptilian creatures with sharp teeth and claws who rampaged a town in the 1984 horror movie, Gremlins, I am currently under attack by a weed…. a devil weed, a dangerous villain, a Gremlin. It’s Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a biennial plant in the Mustard family. Native to Europe, it is thought to have been brought to America in the 1860s as a culinary herb and indeed, it is edible.

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The small rosettes of leaves appeared among my roses and lavender several years ago. I pulled up tons without recognizing the weed until successive years when the plant had matured into tall shoots, competing with the lavender, then moving on to other borders . Each year, I weed and weed and I think I’ve gotten it under control but when I turn my back, it multiplies as fast as those little Gremlins that terrorized an entire community.

It is a destructive invasive plant that is controlled best by hand-pulling before the plant goes to seed. Each mature plant can produce over a thousand seeds and once it produces seeds, it can become so prolific that it is difficult to eradicate. When it’s introduced into a new environment, it can aggressively spread into woodlands where it out-competes native plants and flowers that insects depend upon for life. The West Virginia White Butterfly (Pieris virginiensis) and the Mustard White Butterfly (Pieris oleracea) that lay eggs on Toothwort plants are choosing to lay eggs on Garlic Mustard which has proved toxic to both the eggs and larvae. The plant also produces toxins that suppress the mycorrhizal fungi that plants require for growth.

The plant has no natural enemies. For very heavy infestations where risks to desirable plants is at a minimum, applications of systemic herbicide glyphosate can be effective.  Since the seeds remain viable for five years in the soil, diligent monitoring is important. After weeding, do not compost this weed as the plant can germinate in the compost bed.

Wish me luck.

PS: I uploaded the wrong photo. I moved and now I live in New Hampshire. Wikipedia supplied the photo of Garlic Mustard for this post.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Coming Soon to a Landscape Near You

When you chance upon a roadside or field covered with this vine, eerie silhouettes of Godzillas or mighty lizards rising from the jungle floor come to mind. Silently and steadily, these creatures, concealed beneath trailing vines, mature to a hundred feet tall and infiltrate new ground every growing season.

In its native China and Japan, it garners a lot more respect than we give it. Called kuzu there, it is eaten and used in medications. But in America, kudzu (Pueraria montana) or “the weed that ate the South,” is an extremely fast growing invasive vine, adding up to a foot of growth each day of the summer and perhaps 60 feet a season. It’s said to blanket over 7 million acres of land in the US, hiding telephone poles, smothering and killing trees and endangering forests and native habitats.

Japan brought the plant to America for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, our country’s 100th birthday celebration in 1876, to display as an ornamental plant and a food source. Apparently the plant caught the fancy of Americans. Nurseries sold it. Farmers planted it. The CCC used it for soil erosion in the 1930’s. That was then. Today this dangerous invasive is spreading at the speed of around 120,000 acres a year.

Eradication of the invasive has been difficult. Repeated herbicide treatments for up to ten years can have an effect. There are state and federal eradication programs but are they working? Meanwhile the vine is moving northward. It has invaded 16 counties of Ohio, once thought to be too cold for winter kudzu survival. It’s not really armies of giant lizards but it’s still a scary nightmare. As they say down south, close your windows at night or you may be sleeping with kudzu by morning!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Indestructable Creeping Charlie

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Warming-Skudbygning-Fig9-Glechoma-hederacea.jpgUnless you live in a Rocky Mountain State, you probably have seen a certain evergreen ground perennial running in all directions through your grass this summer.  Best known as Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), but sometimes called Ground Ivy, it is an aromatic member of the mint family.  It thrives in cool, moist, shady soil and the Commonwealth has provided perfect conditions for Creeping Charlie to take hold this summer.  And once it does take hold, watch out. It spreads quickly by sending out runners and putting down new roots every few inches. It also reproduces by seed and by rhizomes.

I left a pair of clippers at the edge of a new border where Charlie Clippers lost beneath Charlie for two wet weekswas prolific. They disappeared in Kudzu-like fashion in no time.  It took me two weeks to find those clippers and only with a weed trimmer did they reappear.

Recently I walked with a friend through her yard while she pointed to the bane of her existence. Crowding out almost half of her shady yard of new grass was Creeping Charlie.  As we walked, she shared her tales of struggle against it. Her story is not unique.  I have Creeping Charlieseen folks fight for years to control Charlie.  Often gardeners give up the war and manage to just keep it somewhat tamed.  Of course, if you happen to rid your property of it, that doesn’t mean the neighbors won’t share their healthy Creeping Charlie.

Landscapers consider the invasive plant a weed and as a last resort will use a glyphosate-based herbicide like Roundup to kill everything, then begin again with grass seed or sod. Homeowners often use a post-emergent broadleaf herbicide twice in the fall and twice again in the spring for several years to have any success.  Others, like me, simply weed it by hand knowing that the fix is temporary.

According to Peterson’s Field Guide, Edible Wild Plants, the plant has culinary uses.  It makes a robust tea, and herbalists around the world hail the perennial for its medicinal benefits.  However, common sense tells us to educate ourselves before ingesting the plant or using it for medical purposes.

Whether you like Creeping Charlie or not, swift success in controlling it is highly unlikely.  Either prepare your battle plan or think of Charlie as a lovely evergreen ground cover.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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