Gardening Education

Winter Review: are you invasive species savvy?

Winter is the ideal dream time for cold-climate gardeners, but it’s also a perfect time to review good gardening practices and increase your gardening knowledge. For this Winter Review we’ll examine invasive species.

February 23 to 28, 2014 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week. Since winter snow covers most of Connecticut and cold temperatures continue to keep most gardeners inside, now is a great time read 10 Ways To Observe National Invasive Species Awareness Week.

There are many ways to prevent spreading invasive plants and creatures that seriously impact native species:

  • cleaning hiking boots, waders, boats/trailers, off-road vehicles, and other equipment or gear on which an invasive seed, plant, or creature may hitch a ride;
  • not dumping aquariums or live bait into waterways – something I thought was a no-duh;
  • using hay, mulch, and soil designated weed-free;
  • and planting only non-invasive landscape plants.

But, there are other means by which invasive plants and creatures spread: seeds and plant pieces may hitch a ride on gardening and lawn mowing equipment; potentially invasive weeds and seeds may arrive in nursery plants; and gardeners can inadvertently transport potentially invasive species by sharing plants from yard to yard or region to region. Even firewood can hide invasive insects – are you aware of the Emerald Ash Borer-caused ban on moving wood from ash trees and firewood out of New Haven county?

To become invasive species savvy, gardeners, homeowners, landscape workers – in essence everyone – must know where to find solid, trustworthy information. In Connecticut, start with

For a plant to be listed as invasive in Connecticut, it must be non-native and harm the environment, human health or cause economic harm in minimally managed areas (woodlands, waterways, open spaces) through its ability to establish and rapidly grow in a wide variety of conditions, reproduce prolifically, disperse over wide areas by vegetative fragments and/or seeds, and lack the growth and reproductive controls evident in the plant’s native regions.

A few of Connecticut’s most prolific terrestrial invasive plants include


Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), as young plants and roots above;



Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) as young plants, above, and en-masse, below, in early spring;



and Japanese Stilt Grass (Microstegium vimineum) as it emerges in early summer …


and shortly before it goes to flower and seed.



Connecticut is also plagued by Autumn Olive (Elaegnus umbellata), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum (Falopia) cuspidatum), Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora), Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), and multiple other trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, grasses and aquatic plants.

The Invasive Plant Atlas of New England is another great resource for New Englanders. Those in other regions should research the invasive species information provided by their state.

Learning about invasive species is an ongoing process … after gardening for more than three decades, I’m still learning. Every region is different, but learning what is already determined to be invasive in your area is the FIRST STEP in becoming invasive species savvy.

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Learn About Gardening, Small-Scale Farming – CT NOFA Winter Conference

If you are interested in growing your own food, community gardening, small-scale farming, or any related topics consider attending the CT NOFA Winter Conference on Saturday, March 1, 2014.

Held at Western Connecticut State University, this year’s conference will be the 32nd annual winter conference held by the Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA). CT NOFA consists of farmers, gardeners, land care professionals and consumers working together to promote healthy, organic, and sustainable gardening and farming practices. CT NOFA also works to educate consumers about such practices and encourages them to support local growers and farmers growing food using such methods.

Press Release Winter Conference 2014 (2)One does not have to be a large grower to glean useful and valuable information and training from the many, many topics presented at the Winter Conference. Anyone, even balcony gardeners, interested in learning more about organic and sustainable food growing and production methods can find something of interest at the conference.

Click topics to scroll through the long list of workshops. Click Registration to sign up.

Registration remains open until February 24, 2014.

Even if you cannot attend CT NOFA’s Winter Conference, take some time to learn more about CT NOFA. They offer resources for gardeners, seasoned farmers and those wanting to try their farming skills, creating school and community gardens, organic landscape practices, and they annually publish a guide to Connecticut’s Organic Farms and Orchards.

Getting to know CT NOFA is a wonderful way to increase your understanding of and connection to local growers, some of whom may be your neighbors.

AT a time when consumers are so bombarded by goods and services from lands afar, CT NOFA acts as a local resource for local growers, producers and consumers.

Check them out.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Joene Hendry

Identifying plants that just appeared

As a professional a garden coach, designer and maintainer, I am frequently asked to identify plants that have ‘just appeared’ on a property. When unsure of an identity I grab a couple of photos and head for two websites, The Connecticut Botanical Society and Go Botany. I have yet to come away without a positive ID.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The most recent ‘mystery’ plant needing identification turned out to be Jimsonweed – aka thorn-apple – botanical name Datura stramonium, a herbaceous perennial considered invasive in Connecticut. I’ve seen this Datura, aka Jimsonweed, in two separate cultivated perennial gardens this year where it had never been spotted before.

With photos downloaded to the computer, it’s easy to compare the mystery plant to website photos. The Connecticut Botanical Society has a handy ‘by flower color’ search option in the Wildflower section. For this identification I looked through the pink and blue/purple selections.  Among the pink flower colors I noted the native wildflower, Swamp Rose-mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos or H. palustris) with somewhat similar flower structure but with very different leaves. There were no like flowers in the blue/purple section.

Further inquiry took me to Go Botany, a relatively new plant ID search feature of the New England Wild Flower Society. To ID plants click on Get Started in the Simple ID Key section, where your next choice is to look under Woody plants, Aquatic plants , Grass-like plants, Orchids and related plants, Ferns, or All other flowering non-woody plants. I followed All other flowering  non-woody plants then Other herbaceous flowering plants with alternate leaves.

Once individual plant photos upload simply scroll through the photos to find your plant, or narrow the selections down by answering questions about the New England state in which the plant was seen and then scroll through photos or further narrow the choices by answering questions regarding leaf type, flower petal color, leaf arrangement, and so forth.

Click on the name of your mystery plant for more information, then click on Go To Species Page for more in depth facts. My search took me here: Datura is native to tropical America but has colonized north to New England states. It is an annual, has night-opening flowers pollinated by Sphinx moths, and is poisonous. Fruit capsules have thorn-like defensive structures and split open to disperse ripened seeds.

With Go Botany identifying Datura stramonium as invasive I headed to the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group to see that the plant is indeed listed on the Connecticut Invasive Plant List.

Had each property owner not taken the time to ask for a positive identification the two Jimsonweeds could have flowered and set seed, further adding to the plant’s invasiveness. In our age of global commerce, plants are transported all over the world. Some become invasive in regions that have no natural predators or controls. Climate change is also contributing to regional shifts in plant growth.

Not all mystery plants end up being invasive. I recently used similar steps to identify the ‘just appeared’ woolsedge (Scirpus cyperinus) growing along the woodland edge of my yard. Because woolsedge is native to Connecticut I will let it set seed and, hopefully, will see more of it growing next year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the case of these two Jimsonweed volunteers,  both have been destroyed.

The seed of both the woolsedge and the jimsonweed may have come in via bird droppings or with the winds of Superstorm Sandy. I’ve often noticed mystery plants, insects and diseases show up the growing season following strong wind storms. Have you?

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Joene Hendry