Invasion of the Invasives

Eeiii!!! Run for your life! We’re being invaded by invasives.

Invasive plants creep into the yard, into the garden, often unawares. They are kind of like weeds but only more so.

  • They “take over” an ecosystem, causing major disturbance to areas where they are present.
  • They lack natural predators that would keep them in balance with other plants in the region.
  • They reproduce quickly.

What is not to scream and run around about?

I’ve known about invasive plants for decades, but there are always more to learn about. An example of one that has recently come to my notice came from walking in the woods these past few years. I  noticed a low, lush grass growing along trails, dirt roads and around the edges of my yard. I began seeing it “everywhere” and wondered what it was. When I took a sample to our Extension Agent he said, only half jokingly, “Get that stuff out of here!” Since that day I’ve spent hours bent over, pulling up Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) by the roots.

Image 1: “Japanese stiltgrass can often become invasive in areas that have been disturbed, are damp or near water, and have a range of light from completely shaded to sunny. Japanese stiltgrass is not very tolerant to cold temperatures. (“Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum (Trin.) Camus),” n.d.)”

Know who’s on your side

The natural world is constantly evolving and we humans are in a dance with plants of all kinds. Knowing some common horticulture terms can help us make the right choice for a healthy, thriving landscape.

  • Native: a plant that has been growing in a region for a long time and has adapted to that region’s ecosystem. Native plants are a source of food for bugs and birds and are in balance with other native species of the region.
  • Non-native plant: a plant that has been introduced recently to a region.
  • Invasive: a non-native plant that reproduces very quickly. 
  • Exotic: same as non-native.
  • Cultivar: a plant that is propagated to encourage specific traits.

An example of a cultivar is the Knock-out ™ rose. It was cultivated from another rose species to create a rose that can withstand the cold, blooms non-stop, and is more disease resistant than standard roses. A cultivar is not the same as a genetically modified organism (GMO). “Cultivars can have sterile flowers and produce no seeds. In some cases, cultivars do not provide food sources for leaf-eating and pollinating insects, as their native counterparts do.” (https://grownative.org/learn/natives-cultivars-and-nativars/)

Image 2: Knock-out ™ rose: “These fast-growing, compact, deciduous shrubs can be grown singly or in groups. They work well in borders and cottage gardens, or in mass plantings as ground cover.” (https://www.gardendesign.com/roses/knock-out.html)

Good guys – natives are plant heroes

Image 3: “Blue cohosh is a member of the barberry family of plants, which proliferate in the eastern region of the United States where rainfall is plentiful, and dense hardwood forests can give it slight shade from the hot sun.” (https://www.nativewildflowers.net/blue-cohosh-plants/)
Image 4: Golden-seal, known for its pharmacological uses, is found in rich, mesic hardwood forests. Blooming occurs in late April through early May; fruiting occurs in July. (Photo by Ryan O’Connor, WDNR)
Image 5: “While Jack-in-the-pulpit has both male and female plants, they can change gender from year to year, apparently in response to successful (or failed) reproduction the previous year.” (https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/jack-in-the-pulpit)

How to fight invasives

  • Get to know the invasive species that are likely to appear in your area. The Georgia Invasive Species Task Force has a variety of publications that identify invasive plants in different settings. The site also provides basic information on how to combat invasives.
  • Avoid planting Invasives. When given the choice, select native plants. Other options include cultivars, nativars (cultivars created from native plants) and carefully selected exotics.
  • Get rid of them! Pull them out – root and all.
  • Plant native plants when and where possible. These plants tend to be hardy and easier to care for. Check out the University of Georgia Extension’s lists of native plants that will thrive in North Georgia.

Bad Guys – and some of these you thought were your friends…

Image 6: “Autumn olive is an invasive deciduous shrub or small tree in the Elaeagnaceae (oleaster) family native to Afghanistan and eastern Asia. It survives where many other plants would struggle being highly tolerant of drought and erosion but it does not tolerate wet sites.” (https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/elaeagnus-umbellata/) (Photo by Nathan Wilson)
Image 7: “Hedera helix, known as English Ivy,  is an aggressive invader threatening all levels of forested and open areas, growing along the ground as well as into the forest canopy. Vines climb up tree trunks and envelop branches and twigs, blocking sunlight from the host tree’s foliage, impeding photosynthesis.” (https://www.invasive.org/browse/subinfo.cfm?sub=3027) (Photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Jina_Lee)
Image 8: “Believe it or not, privet takes up more space in our forests than kudzu and can be just as harmful. This plant is commonly planted as a “privacy” hedge on private property. Birds then spread the berries.” (https://www.treesatlanta.org/resources/top-10-invasive-plants-that-harm-our-urban-forest/)
Image 9: The non-native Japanese Honeysuckle “was introduced into the United States from east Asia as an ornamental vine. Habitats include power-line clearances, semi-shaded areas along roadsides and railroads, and edges of yards…and it has the capacity to displace many native species of plants.” (https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/weeds/plants/jp_honeysuckle.htm)

Note that not all non-native plants are bad and some may be the best fit for your landscape. The key is knowing what you want for and in your landscape.

Don’t let invasives scare you out of your garden or yard. Take charge! Getting rid of invasives is not for the faint of heart, but it can be done. If the task is too daunting or you need help getting started, call for help. The pros from Art of Stone Gardening will help you beat back the invasives.

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