STEP TWO: RECOGNIZING NON-NATIVE INVASIVES
Non-native invasive plants spread aggressively, outcompeting native plant species, and are a major threat to the environment. Identifying and removing these invasives helps to stop their spread and open up areas for native plants, and should be a primary goal for creating a better ecosystem on your property.
WHAT QUALIFIES AS INVASIVES?
A plant is considered to be invasive if it: 1) is non-native, and 2) spreads with a habit that threatens and displaces native plants. It's important to note that some natives have aggressive habits. These species are not invasive and are a vital part of a healthy ecosystem, desirable to anyone working to create a beneficial spot for native plants and wildlife. Invasives, on the other hand, are harmful to ecosystems, as they are intruders that displace the necessary pieces of a working habitat, and should be removed. Some examples of essential native plants with aggressive habits include grapevines, Virginia creeper, blackberries and greenbrier. These species never behave as aggressively as invasive plants, and ecologically, their spread is a positive and necessary part of nature. Helping native plants means helping these aggressive natives too.
Here a forest has been overtaken by Japanese Stiltgrass. Find natives that are existing here and hand pull around them to encourage them to spread.
While it's easier to eliminate invasive species on a small lot, this can seem like a stressful endeavor if you have a larger property. For large areas, this process is not so much about eradicating every invasive but more about managing the invasives that are present. Let's take a look:
Begin with a manageable plan. Are there areas of your property that are more natural or have some invasives just starting to spread in? Focus on pinpointing these isolated populations and removing them first. This will ensure the invasives don't have the opportunity to find a foothold there and gain new territory.
Look for native plants growing in areas that are thick with invasives. When you see a tangle of invasives, there are usually natives trying to hang on as well, struggling to survive among the competition. Find these natives and start by protecting them. In some places, it may be helpful to mark them with flags to ensure you don't accidentally remove them.
Trees & Shrubs: Native trees and shrubs that are being threatened by invasives are especially important to free; shrubs and young trees in particular often cannot handle the intense competition. Most invasives thrive in disturbed locations in sun and part shade/dappled sunlight, but cannot thrive in shadier areas. A long term goal of creating a shadier environment is an effective way to fight them, as well as to prevent them from getting re-established once removed. When shrubs and young trees are free of invasives, these species gain the ability to create shade as they grow and eventually go on to add to the understory, making a stronger environment and one that will be harder for invasives to penetrate. As you are removing herbaceous or vining invasives,it's essential to recognize the importance of those small trees and shrubs underfoot and to be careful not to disturb them during the process.
Herbaceous Plants: Next, clear small patches around the native herbaceous plants. It can be helpful to clear around species that spread quickly through their roots or seeds first. Once freed from the invasive pressure, these natives will spread to help recolonize the area, while making it more difficult for invasives to return.
Multiflora Rose (left) and Wineberries (right) are both invasives that can become thick in forest understories, competing with natives.
METHODS OF INVASIVE REMOVAL
It's important to remember that the reason for removing invasives is to help native plants. Native plants should never be sacrificed during this process, and it's always better to have both invasive plants and native plants, rather than to have neither.
Invasives are an ongoing problem and, even if removed completely from your property, these intruders will continuously attempt to find ways back—from your neighbor's property or transported by birds, shoes, or tires. This doesn't mean you shouldn't try to remove them. You definitely should work towards getting out as many as possible! It's important to take a holistic approach, however, and make sure your top priority is always about creating a better ecosystem on your property, rather than simply eradicating every invasive in sight at the expense of native plant and animal life.
We never recommend harsh methods of extermination. These approaches, such as using sprays or mowing down all plant life in the area, wipe out both invasives and natives. Instead, the best way to eliminate and prevent invasive species is to work with natives, encouraging them to spread and fill in empty gaps where invasives would, otherwise, try to come in. It's good to keep the native plant to invasive plant ratio in mind: little by little, the goal is to work towards increasing the number of natives on your property while decreasing the number of invasives—eventually reaching a point where your invasives are quite low and natives much higher.
We strongly recommend methods of removal that allow you to work on a personalized basis with the invasives and natives in an area, such as hand-pulling, digging, hand-clipping, or sawing. These more selective options allow you to choose between the natives and invasives in front of you, something that isn't possible in methods like mowing. And, once you work in an area, always remember to periodically check the spot to keep the invasives from returning.
SITE CONSULTATIONS: We offer site consultations that include a combination of plant identification, species recommendations, and invasive removal strategies personalized for your specific property. How does this work? While walking around your property with you, we identify invasives present and discuss methods for removing them in a way that prioritizes existing native plants and emphasizes a holistic approach. For more info, click here.
INVASIVE SPECIES IN OUR AREA
The species listed below are some of the most prevalent invasives in our area of Virginia.
-Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus)
-Japanese Stilt Grass (Mirostegium vimineum)
-Tall Fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus)
-Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
-Ground Ivy (Clechoma hederacea)
-Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus)
-Chinese Lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata)
-Marsh Dewflower (Murdannia keisak)
-Beefsteak Plant (Perilla frutescens)
-Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)
-Common Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
-Tree of Heaven/Paradise Tree (Ailanthus altissima):
-Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)
-Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa)
-Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana)
-Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)
-Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
-Autumn Olive (Elaeeagnus umbellata)
-Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense):
-Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)
-Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius
Always be positive about the identification of the invasives you're removing. Paradise Tree (above) could accidentally be mistaken for the native Sumacs or Black Walnut.
-Porcelain Berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata)
-Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)
-Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis temiflora)
-English Ivy (Hedera helix)
-Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera jaronica)
-Kudzu (Pueraria montana)