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

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

 

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

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

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and shortly before it goes to flower and seed.

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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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