By Bud Meyer
The enemy goes by deceptively pleasing names: tree-of-heaven, autumn olive, mile-a-minute, multiflora rose, wineberry and Japanese stiltgrass.
But in the war on invasive species, far harsher terms describe what it takes to keep these invaders at bay: Hack and squirt. Kill it first. Go after the females. Manage the big thugs. Burn the field.
The key to victory?
“Have patience,” said Amissville’s Bryan Lilly, a habitat management specialist and a presenter at a Saturday morning workshop staged by the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection. “Anytime you’re dealing with invasives, you’ve got to have patience.”
An engaged crowd showed up at The Theater in the town of Washington on a cool, drippy Saturday (July 21) morning for presentations by a pair of front-line habitat experts. The workshop included a muddy-boots tour of the town’s demonstration butterfly trail led by master naturalists Jack Price and Jenny Fitzhugh.
While the Piedmont is home to diverse native plant life, unwelcome invasive species are the bullies on the block, pushing out natives and compromising local fields, forests and gardens. Removal is costly, time-consuming and darn-near impossible, even for backyard gardeners.
But both speakers said control is both possible and practical.
Lilly, a certified arborist and owner of Natural Elements, drew on seven years of plant management at the National Zoo to describe the worst of the unwelcome visitors.
Part of the problem is that invasive species come in all shapes and sizes. There are annuals like mile-a-minute and Japanese stiltgrass, biannuals like garlic mustard, herbaceous perennials and woodier foes like ailanthis (also called tree-of-heaven) and autumn olive. Each requires different techniques and seasons for removal. It’s not as simple as getting out the chain saw.
“You can cut ailanthis, cut it down, and it comes back 10 times worse,” said Lilly. “You’ve gotta kill it first.”
Brian Morse, a wildlife biologist working with the Virginia Forestry & Wildlife Group, agreed, calling ailanthis “the worst invasive tree species in Virginia.” In Rappahannock, Morse also sees autumn olive, multiflora rose, bittersweet and Japanese barberry “on every property.”
Morse showed selected case studies of efforts to remove such invasives as fescue and Johnson grass and replace them with native plants and grasses. He advises clients to decide what their land-use goals are first and take a phased approach.
Effective removal often comes down to patient, hands-on work, careful spraying with herbicides like glyphosate or Garlon, and knowing what sprays work when.
Morse offers these tips for clients:
- Scout for problems.
- Manage expectations.
- Be patient and persistent.
- Decide what really bothers you.
- Use adaptive management and long-term thinking.
The newest secret weapon in the war, according to Morse?
“Goats!” said Morse, showing a slide and drawing a laugh. In fact, he’s experimenting with using goats in prescribed grazing to help control invasives. (You do have to be prepared to look after it though).
A good resource for information on invasive plants and insects, Morse said, is www.invasive.org
The butterfly trail project tour gave the appreciative crowd an up-close look at the newly planted host and nectar plants used to draw butterflies in the gardens near Avon Hall. Price and Fitzhugh described plans for careful removal of nearby tree-of-heaven, autumn olive and Japanese stiltgrass to make way for natives.
At the Butterfly Trail
The invasive species workshop is the third in RLEP’s education series this year. Previous workshops featured naturalist Bruce Jones and a presentation on ticks and Lyme disease. This fall, RLEP plans a program on bears.
- A Management Guide for Invasive Plants in Southern Forests
- Virginia Department of Forestry
- The Nature Conservancy
- The Virginia Dept of Conservation and Recreation - in the left hand column, pull down: Natural Heritage to find more.
- The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)- look for cost sharing funding for invasive species removal through the EQIP program.