Monthly Archives: March 2012

Now is the Time to Identify and Control Japanese Barberry

Connecticut’s woodland undergrowth is beginning to green. Unfortunately, much of this color is due to invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii de Candolle). This thorny shrub dominates unmanaged wooded areas. Deer don’t eat it and birds spread it by eating and dispersing the prolific red berries it produces each autumn. Japanese barberry quickly grows into large thickets that provide cover for mice and an ideal environment for immature blacklegged ticks – the very ticks that carry Lyme disease. In their early life, ticks are susceptible to desiccation – they need high-humidity at the ground level to thrive. Japanese barberry accommodate the high-humidity needs of young ticks by leafing out earlier than most native shrubbery, thus maintaining ground-level moisture by blocking drying sunshine.Japanese Barberry 4

Mice also like the protection a large stand of Japanese barberry affords them from predators. With mice and ticks enjoying the same habitat there’s bound to be an increase in tick-borne disease.

Researchers Scott C. Williams and Jeffrey S. Ward, at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, have been monitoring the number of mice, the number of ticks and Lyme-infected ticks, and ground-level humidity in three geographic areas of Connecticut. In each area they have test plots of uncontrolled, controlled, and no Japanese barberry. They control Japanese barberry in their test plots using one of three methods. One method is torching the base of each shrub until the main stems carbonized and glowed – in effect girdling main stems to stop nutrient transfer.  I would not advise trying this method without undergoing a certain level of training, particularly during this dry, high fire risk spring of 2012.

The other two forms of control involved mechanically cutting the shrubs – usually by brush hog – and leaving cut plant material in place. They controlled regrowth with herbicides or flame from a propane torch applied directly to new sprouts. Note: Torching is acceptable control method for organic land care. It involves heating new sprouts by sweeping the flame back and forth over leaves until their cells burst. Torching does not involve turning a large patch of land into a flaming inferno. However, in this dry and high fire risk year, I strongly suggest this type of control only be used by highly trained individuals.

With a total of three years of data now collected, Williams and Ward report plots without barberry have about 30 Lyme-infected ticks per hectare (the equivalent of 2.471 acres). In these controlled plots, the researchers found decreased humidity and ‘a near 60% reduction in the number of B. burgdorferi-infected adult blacklegged ticks.’

Plots of uncontrolled Japanese barberry had about 280 Lyme-infected ticks per hectare.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA These findings suggest that continued barberry control will result in continued decline in tick populations. Mechanical control takes vigilance and follow-up, as Scott Williams explained for my report on his and Ward’s previous Japanese barberry-tick study. Effective eradication requires proper identification of the Japanese barberry shrubs, mechanical removal of all above-ground portions in late-spring or early summer so the shrubs use starchy root reserves to force out new growth, then killing new growth in later summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It is extremely important to know that Japanese barberry shrubs will not die with one cut. Williams cautions that cut shrubs send up new growth with a vengeance.   If pulled, it will resprout from the tiniest rootlets left in the ground.  Re-checking areas where Japanese barberry has been cut or pulled is an extremely important management practice. Eradication requires vigilance.

I live in an area heavily infested with Japanese barberry yet my property is clear of this invader because  I wander my property this time of year to attack any Japanese barberry shrub or sprout. I repeat my wanderings during autumn months to be sure the invaders remain under control. If wooded areas adjacent to your home are so overgrown with this invasive shrub that control there seems impossible, then take the time to establish a line in which you will not let Japanese barberry cross. Keep it from establishing in the areas your family and pets frequent.

With little practice, spotting and removing Japanese barberry will become part of your regular gardening routine.

Garden thoughtfully,


Note: this is a rewrite of a previous post, Lyme-ticks thrive in Japanese barberry thickets.

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Cut Daffodils Don’t Play Well with Other Flowers

I love filling my living spaces with vases of fresh-cut daffodils. They cheer up the darkest mood and warm the chilliest room.  But I learned that cut daffodils (narcissus is their botanical name) don’t play well with other cut flowers in the same vase.

Cut daffodil stems exude a sap containing calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals prevent other flowers in the same vase from absorbing water, causing them to wilt. The same crystals can also irritate human skin leading to ‘daffodil itch ‘ a contact dermatitis common among people who pick or work with the cheery spring bloomers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA cut flower suppliesI use two methods for picking daffodils. I either slice or snap the flower stalks near their base, then hold cut stems bloom down to keep the sap in the hollow stem. This works well when picking just a few daffs at a time. To gather a bunch of daffodil blossoms, I carry a small clean bucket or other non-breakable water-holding container to the garden. After cutting, each stem quickly goes into the clean water-filled bucket. Using this method, the flowers can rest in the water until I have time to arrange them in a vase of fresh water.

To keep these or any cut flowers fresh longer, replace day old water with fresh.

While daffodils are lovely when bunched alone in a vase, I like to add a touch of contrast. So rather than sentence another type of bloom to early death, I snip a few woody branches to accompany my daffodil bouquet. I love the contrast of the warm daffodil petals with the dark, but dainty, structure of birch or beech branches, such as in these photos from previous years.

narcissi bouquet          narcissi in mason jar

A bouquet like this will cheer up even the gloomiest Gus.

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Watching and Recording Plant Phases

Spring is springing early in Connecticut and I have more than anecdotal observations to prove it. I have multiple years of plant phase data recorded by me and other citizen scientists on the Project Budburst website. Project Budburst is a very cool project that asks plant watchers across the US to record first leaf, first flower, first ripe fruit, end of season leaf color changes, and other plant phenophases. Trained scientists then use these observations in their research.

The thought that I, a simple gardener, could help advance science enticed me to become a Project Budburst observer during late spring of 2009 when I recorded first flower of Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). The following spring I began my observations early and was able to record first leaf and first flower of common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and  first flower of Spiderwort (Trandescantia ohiensis).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Now I can go back to these records to compare first leaf dates for my easiest to observe shrub, common lilac. This is what it looked like March 22, 2012, its first leaf phase.

This same lilac shrub did not reach first leaf until March 29 in 2010 – nine days later than this year. Last spring, 2011, it reached first leaf the first week of April, about two weeks later than this year.

All Project Budburst observations from 2007 through 2010 are currently available to anyone. Data from 2011 should be available on the site soon.

Getting started as an observer takes a few minutes but the steps are easy. A cool side benefit is you’ll learn the latitude and longitude of your property.

You can choose to make single observations or regular observations. Hint: the regular observation choice minimizes the need to input longitude, latitude, town and other site information repeatedly.

You can download field journals for each of the plants you choose to observe. These journals are available by plant type – wildflowers and herbs, grasses, and different trees and shrubs – and by state. Even if you don’t become an observer , these field journals provide useful photos and information about specific plants, trees and shrubs.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Project Budburst is a fun project to do with kids – getting them outside and increasing their knowledge of the natural world that surrounds them. You don’t have to live in rural areas to participate, all are welcome. When my granddaughter is old enough I hope to enlist her in BudBurst Buddies so we can plant-watch together along with the website buddies Lily and Sage. We’ll start with the flower that intrigues all young kids … the dandelion.

I’m not as good at journal-keeping as other gardeners with excel spreadsheets or written records of the growth-bloom-dormancy cycles of their plants. My records are not quite as organized. My records are in the photos I’ve taken, quick notes I’ve jotted, or blog posts I’ve published, but retrieving my data takes time. The plant phases I’ve documented through Project Budburst are easy to retrieve for my own comparisons. Knowing my observations also become part of science is a great side benefit.

There are citizen scientist programs in many areas of science – wildlife, health, space, insects, geology, weather – as listed in this 2011 article in Scientific American. You can also read about citizen scientist programs in this post at Native Plant & Wildlife Gardens.

Make a difference. Become a citizen scientist in at least one of these venues.

Garden thoughtfully,


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry