How to dispose invasive plants

If my latest Winter Review post, Are you invasive species savvy? did not offer ample links for learning about Connecticut’s invasive plants, check this guide. Once you can identify invasive plants, and likely have learned your landscape contains at least one, it’s time to learn how to properly dispose invasive plants.

Connecticut’s DEEP and the University of Connecticut developed Guidelines for Disposal of Terrestrial Invasive Plants. Not all invasive plants are treated equally when it comes to disposal. The guidelines noted above are the most comprehensive I’ve found to date and provide valuable information on the proper disposal of terrestrial invasive plants.

Based on these guidelines and my own experience, these are the most important rules to follow when removing and disposing of invasive plants from a home landscape.

Rule #1: DON’T ADD INVASIVE PLANTS TO YOUR COMPOST PILE! This refers to the compost you intend to spread back into planting beds. Home compost piles often don’t get hot enough to destroy all seeds/roots. When spreading home compost to planting beds you don’t want to also spread still viable seeds/roots from any invasive plant.

Rule #2: R-read Rule #1.

Rule #3: Read the guidelines, print them, bookmark the link, and refer to the guidelines regularly.

Rule #4: Repeat Rule #3.

As an Organic Land Care Professional caring for home landscapes, I do not advocate the use of chemicals for control of invasive plants. Instead, I suggest vigilant observation for invasive species, followed by cutting, pulling, smothering, and/or burning, followed by vigilant observation and re-cutting, re-pulling, re-smothering, and/or re-burning as needed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Dealing with invasive plants is not sexy, but it is an oh-so necessary part of gardening in today’s world.

Catching invasive plants when they are still young, removing them, and regularly rechecking for re-sprouts, is the best control method and the easiest way to prevent invasive plants from taking hold. I do invasive plant patrols on our nearly three acres of home gardens and woods in early spring, late spring/early summer, mid-summer, late-summer, and before a killing frost. These patrols have proved to be as important as weeding in my cultivated beds.


For small, invasive woody shrubs, vines and trees, I use the pull-out-all-roots and leave-to-dry method. The key is in getting all the roots. I often leave the pulled plant to dry atop a fallen tree , then target the areas where invasives were found for continued re-checking for new sprouts. This is particularly important for Japanese barberry, as it aggressively regenerates from the slightest piece of root left in the soil.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When I spot a large number of newly sprouted invasive plants – think Oriental bittersweet seedlings that sprout each spring under trees after birds have deposited partially digested seeds during winter roosting visits to the tree’s upper branches – I collect pulled seedlings in a plastic bag (I reuse large plastic bags from prior mulch, compost, or soil amendment purchases). Letting bagged seedlings bake in the sun for a week or so kills seeds/roots then the bags go into the trash.

This is my preferred disposal method for Japanese Stilt Grass seedlings and plants (left photo), bittersweet seedlings, garlic mustard, and any small weed in flower.

After weeding out young invasives – or any weeds – be sure to follow the standard good-gardening practice of covering exposed/disturbed soil with some sort of mulch.

Larger invasive plants, such as bittersweet vines that have climbed into trees, can be cut to prevent further growth, leaving cut remains on site to dry. But cut trunks/stems must be monitored for re-growth. And … if the invasive has produced flowers or seeds, the area must be regularly checked for newly sprouted seedlings. Non-flowering, non-seeding woody plant material can be chipped, left in place,  or used to create a brush pile as habitat for woodland birds and creatures.

Japanese barberry requires repeated monitoring and managing of regrowth. This video shows how torching is used for Japanese Barberry control, but this method requires specific precautions and is not recommended for everyone.


Courtesy of the Univ. of CT Extension System, CT Agricultural Experiment Station

The proper management and disposal of invasive plant material is best determined by the location, age, size, flowering status, and reproductive ability of each invasive. To keep invasive plants from spreading and overtaking your landscape you need to make monitoring and control a regular gardening task … just like weeding.

Invasive plant control can seem a daunting task, but keep at it … the more diligent you are in controlling invasive plants in your landscape the less time you will ultimately need to spend controlling them.

February 23 to 28, 2014 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week … take this opportunity to learn more about invasive species in your area.

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