An entire yard of invasive species

pbl_ge(5/6)September 4, 2011


I had a garden years ago before I became concientious about chemicals. DH and I have just bought a house in upstate NY with about 1/4 acre. We saw it early spring before the plants were up in what seemed like well-done landscaping, and so didn't realize until we moved in that the bulk of the plants are nasty ones: english ivy (under the siding, burying the hellebores, trying to bring down the mature maples, growing into the generator, etc.), rose of sharon (the babies are eeeeeeeverywhere), buckthorn (a new invasive species for me to learn! Whee!), pachysandra, and privet. There are a few decent plants buried under the ivy, but the vast majority of what's out there is hard-to-kill semi- or totally invasive garbage.

So, in my naive days, I would have bought a forklife full of Roundup and seed killer and leveled the place. Now I refuse to give Monsanto a single cent, but I'm also not sure that simple weeding and the more eco-friendly chemicals like vinegar are up to the task before us.

What would you do???

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I'd purchase a small container of RU and spot spray the stubs after pruning. One doesn't need to 'level the place'. Be careful and conservative with the spraying, and you'll eventually bring it under control with the combination of pulling, pruning, digging, and spraying.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 12:23AM
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That someone would suggest using a glyphosate product on an organic gardening forum says they are not into, and do not understand, organic gardening, especially after someone says they will not use it.
Digging those invasive species out will work even though it may well be a lot of work, and it will be more effective with less cost and environmental damage then even one gallon of a glyphosate product.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 6:06AM
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I agree with Rhizo. Judicious apps of glysophate and a whole lot of work pulling out invasives and bagging them is the route I'd take. Digging may not be possible for you for some of these. On the newly cut to the ground privet, recommend immediate application of a product like Green Light cut vine and stump killer....small drops directly from the container. Privet will most likely resprout from the root system, which is extensive. Reapply stump killer per package instructions.

Granted, this is an Organic forum, which doesn't mean you can't take inorganic steps when YOU feel it's necessary.

Re using glysophate, recommend you don't buy the pre-mixed slop, as it's considered way less effective than the concentrate mixed with water.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 10:23AM
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Well, I DID ask "What would you do?"--that allows for the possibility that many of the generally organic gardeners would make an exception. Very glad to hear about Green Light though!

Someone else mentioned the possibility of removing some of the top inches of soil. Given the range of invasive species in the yard, seems like might be a good option. Thoughts on that? Any of the other mechanisms for sprouting prevention?

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 1:18PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Not only did you buy a house, you bought an exercise plan! The more ideas you have, the better decision you will make. How about doing both - leveling the whole thing and doing it organically - a bulldozer to knock down/scoop up everything. Then a layer of compost, layer of mulch... Not technically that simple, but you get the framework I'm sure

Without getting too personal, you'll want to discuss and adhere to a budget for this project and if you want instant results - the bulldozer I mentioned. Is that worth the expense to you? Or would you be happy chasing it back a section at a time? For the former, there are logistics involved, like where would the stuff go? Could you chip it into a giant compost pile? Can a thing that big even get to the area? There are a lot of things to decide before you do anything if you want to spend your time and money wisely..

For the section-at-a-time approach, you could dig out an area, cover it with cardboard, then compost/mulch. Cardboard is great stuff, although some things can come through it if buried alive, so it's not a panacea. Also, it needs to lay as flat as possible for effective smothering. So little stumps, especially from ivy, can cause trouble and would take a while to decompose to where you could easily dig to garden. So there's definitely some shovel work involved in cardboarding over woody weeds. As you have the time and energy, you conquer the space. Doing what you reasonably can to prevent seeds in the untackled areas would be a worthwhile activity. ...not sure that simple weeding and the more eco-friendly chemicals like vinegar are up to the task before us. They're not up to it. (And there is an ongoing debate about vinegar being a harmless weed killer. There are many strong opinions on both sides, not endorsing either opinion, just mentioning that the discussion exists, in case you want to look into it.) You have many options depending on your financial expectations, ability/desire to do hard physical labor, level of patience, etc... Something else to consider is if you want to hire out the work or buy some equipment, like a small stump grinder and/or "trimmer/mower." (Trying not to endorse particular products I've only seen on tv but look really "neat-o." I'm sure there are competitors to check also.)

If I were you, I might wonder if there was something organic I could put in the area to drastically but temporarily cause death to some/most of the stuff there. For example, something that decomposes very fast but makes the soil temporarily very acidic. A whole dump-truck load of coffee grounds? (And if it worked, how long until things are back to normal, or what would you then do to restore the balance?) Something like that. Since I have so specific suggestion, it may be an unattainable goal, so I hope someone with more knowledge can give an answer or lay this idea to rest as not possible.

Boiling water is another great organic weed killer that I...

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 5:09PM
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myluck(5 In)

I've always considered a bobcat or tractor with a large rototiller organic. Loosens things up a bit

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 5:47PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

OR...there's always the option I've linked to below!

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 12:06PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I forgot to mention that the removal of two inches of soil is not likely to help you in the long run, and may cause damage to your existing trees. As a matter of fact, the use of heavy equipment over the top of the soil system can result in compaction and possible tree damage.

I honestly think that a multifaceted approach to your problem is the most reasonable one. Let's call it Integrated Pest Management, with the pest being all of those invasive plants.

For example, a little RU on cut stumps and stubs would go a long way in killing unwanted plants. No need to even touch the soil with it. Or mist the brand new growth that emerges this coming spring (after you've done all the pruning).

Perhaps a weed torch might be a useful tool for your purposes. Torches are fun to use. Of course, mowers and weedeaters and torches and tractors all use fuel, which some might consider a no-no. ;-) (Hmmmm, that brings us right back to my previous suggestion...the one that doesn't operate on fuel. )

That, along with frequent line trimming, mowing, mulching, etc., and you'd have your yard under control in a year or so, I would think. You'll begin to feel like you've accomplished something as soon as a bunch of the pruning is done! It will look so much better.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 12:34PM
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Very interesting responses here--thanks so much for the input. I suspect we'll probably do a combination of things suggested. It seems like some of these monsters will need more serious interventions, so a minimalist application of something like Green Light might be a good idea. I have no idea what we'll do with the 1000s of babies that are likely to spring up in the next few years. The Man of the House seemed excited about the weed torch prospect! I don't know about that goat, though. =) I guess *that's* the nuclear option. I also think the cardboard/lasagna bed will be good in a couple of areas. My immediate inclination is to do it ALL! RIGHT NOW! But that's a bad idea and very unrealistic given other aspects of our lives.

Anyway, thanks for writing so much and so thoughtfully!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 9:12PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Be sure to be a good label reader when you look for Green Light products. There are several that are manufactured under that name and you want to get the right chemical for the job. Sounds like you've got the right attitude. You can be ultra conservative with the chemicals, and heavy on the elbow grease.

I loved that goat portrait. Believe it or not, goat rental is a profitable business in many locations around the country. Including on municipal and public properties! The goat owners truck them to the site, and set up temporary fencing to keep them within bounds. Goats love those weeds! I 'almost' sold a city I lived in some time back on the idea. ;-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Take a look, just for grins.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 11:15PM
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How about: chill out.

Your little 1/4 acre is a very tiny part of the immense pool of invasive plant material that you mention. Why is it so important that it be completely clear of them in a very short time?

Glysophate and bulldozer compete with each other as most wrong-headed non-solutions that will create long-lasting damage to the site. Somehow I doubt that the person recommending that you run a bulldozer over your topsoil has ever been near the actual machine. A bulldozer is a tank without the cannon - doesn't fit well into a thriving biology.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 7:50AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

pnbrown, I didn't see your suggestions. That was only one of many I offered and it wasn't given as an order or described as the best thing to do. I think you can tell that from reading my entire post. Working through the reasons why some ideas are better than others is helpful in the process of arriving at the best solution. If you prefer to latch onto something from the beginning of a long entry and ridicule it with no explanation, supporting facts, or alternatives, I'm sure you will.

Somehow I doubt that the person recommending that you run a bulldozer over your topsoil has ever been near the actual machine. What is the purpose of this sentence?

Your little 1/4 acre This feels demeaning, condescending to me.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 12:33PM
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Dan Staley

I agree with rhizo that a Bobcat in existing landscaping is a disaster. No need to remove soil. Spray, flame, weed, pull, smother, repeat. Then repeat. And repeat. Then repeat again. Hire some neighborhood kids.


    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 3:35PM
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"Your little 1/4 acre This feels demeaning, condescending to me."

Yup, me too. So did "chill out" after my previous posting had said the same thing in a self-deprecating way.

I took about an 8 year hiatus from GW while I didn't have a garden. I've been really surprised by some of the snarky, rude posts I've seen since my return.

In other news, there's no way to get large equipment into our yard. So this was a nonstarter anyway.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 4:05PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

pbl...the snarky are few and far between, believe me. Just ignore them and give ALL of your attention to the rest of us, lol.

I think that between most of us, you've got some pretty good ideas. Dan summed it up pretty well, didn't he?

By the way, men-folk almost always like the torch idea!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 11:36PM
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Aside from consuming large amounts of non renewable resources torches will only kill the top growth of the plants hit, although repeated burning will eventually cause the roots to do die.
Something more to keep in mind, those "weeds" have been growing there and using nutrients from the soil that will be simply wasted if they are yanked out and thrown away. Tilling them in might be a better solution or covering them with newspaper and a mulch material to deprive them of access to sunlight so they die and feed the Soil Food Web the nutrients they have pulled from that soil.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 7:56AM
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kimmsr, if she's got English Ivy up the wazoo, no amount of newspaper or mulch is going to get rid of it, and yes, I am speaking from experience. If she tills it in, she'll have even more of the (insert rude word here) stuff. There are things you can smother or till, and when it works it's great, but it is not a panacea. It would be helpful if you could tell us the weeds that you have eliminated using these methods.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 9:35AM
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"if she's got English Ivy up the wazoo, no amount of newspaper or mulch is going to get rid of it"

I was wondering about that. It did seem like newspaper/cardboard would be a pretty weak weapon against the power that is ivy.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 9:44AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

No doubt, pbl. That's why I said, "Cardboard is great stuff, although some things can come through it if buried alive, so it's not a panacea." I have helped dig ivy out of other people's yards, which is the only way I really know to get rid of a large patch of it. The cardboard/lasagna method would be something you would do after digging in the case of ivy. For less-woody, milder-mannered "weeds" tilling followed by lasagna can be effective but I've not tried this with ivy.

Don't think anyone has mentioned so far in this thread that if you use chems to kill stuff, you still have to dig out the remnants - stumps, root mass - to be able to use the space again. It just seems easier and safer to me to start with the shovel.

Are you able to post a picture? The ideas so far have been general suggestions since nobody has seen your yard. I don't know that much more can be offered in the way of advice at this point without getting more specific about your particular slice of heaven.

I can't stand the snarky-ness, either. Especially when people pop into a discussion with no suggestions of their own, but just to dump on what's already been said.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 10:23AM
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Here are a few pics. This first one doesn't look that bad unless you know that every green thing except the hostas and ferns is buckthorn, rose of sharon or privet. Well, there are some normal weeds, too. That's an old maple stump (and an electrical outlet, which further complicates digging), whose death suddenly made deep shade into full sun. All of those trashcans are filled with buckthorn that was chopped down in that area to prevent the drop of its 3,000,000,000 seeds.

Deeper in the backyard, you'll see that the ivy surrounds everything. This is a hard photo to make out what plants are included. There's a lot of ivy here (we got it off the tree already), there's a lot of what I think is Glechoma hederacea, and a lot of ditch lilies and pachysandra. There's also a nice-looking ninebark planted inscrutably 3' away from that maple.

Like ivy? I measured this area earlier. It's 30' by 25' at the widest point.

This area is one of my favorites. This really is a battleground of the invasive groundcovers. I'm not even sure what all is in here, but definitely the ivy, oenethera, pachysandra, Glechoma hederacea, and probably some other stuff. There's also a shrub I haven't identified, a rose buried deeply, a wisteria (Good kind or evil kind? I'm not sure) and a clematis. All growing on top of one another.

This strip seems manageable, so we're starting with it first. You'll see all the favorites here. This is also the destination of the sun scorched hostas and ferns from above.

Oh, and there are rose of sharon babies about every 6" in all of these pictures.

A little bit at a time......

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 5:53PM
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If I intended any snark, it was toward the suggestion to put a 'bulldozer' onto a small residential property. Silly, of course, since it won't fit onto most residential properties and would do spectacular harm. As pointed out, even the bobcat, a machine a tiny fraction as large can do unacceptable damage.

My suggestion is the same as some others: the lot is entirely small enough to control unwanted growth without poisening or completely scrambling the soil. Even if the lot was 500 acres I would not recommend destroying the environment to get rid of invasives. BTW, some grasses are invasives.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 9:18AM
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terrene(5b MA)

PBL - Welcome back to gardening and GW! And congrats on your new house!

I would first organize your plan of attack. Prioritize removal of the invasive plants so that you remove the worst problems first. You already seem to be working on that, because you've removed fruiting Buckthorns. Any other invasives going to seed should be cut or deadheaded, to at least stop the immediate spread.

I would make removing the ivy from the siding of your house a top priority. In addition, removing any other foundation vegetation that is growing on or against the house is high priority. These can potentially damage or rot out your house. Also, I would cut the ivy that is growing up the trees at the base and paint the stems with concentrated roundup. I know it's not organic, but careful spot control with a concentrated herbicide isn't going to poison your whole yard.

The pachysandra in your 3rd picture isn't going anywhere in a hurry, and will be relatively easy to remove by the cardboard method. In the spring, mow it down as low as possible. Cover with double or triple layers of cardboard or other paper, making sure to overlap well, so there aren't any cracks for the sprouts to grow through. Layer some attractive mulch on top and wait for it to croak. I've gotten rid of tons of Vinca minor this way - easy peasy!

For seedlings or sprouts, I would be resigned to pulling them for x years to come.

I agree with previous posters that heavy machinery could potentially tear up your landscape and damage tree roots, not to mention they guzzle diesel, which isn't a "no-no" if it's warranted, but it's hardly green and organic.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 7:51AM
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Could I ask please, please ask the folks who are recommending Roundup to watch Food, Inc? I understand that there are situations (such as mine) where small applications of herbicide can be considered. But I'm really surprised that folks on the Organic Forum keep recommending a Monsanto product. Have you guys ever researched that company? It is just about as evil as it gets. There's another documentary called "Controlling Our Food: The World According to Monsanto" that's supposed to be pretty good.

Seriously, folks--if you care at all about the environment and the health of the food chain, buy another product.

OK, off the soapbox now. Thanks for all the supportive replies!!!

Here is a link that might be useful: Trailer and info on Food, Inc.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 3:50PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

pbl, I have seen the documentaries you mentioned. A similar one: The future of food. The scariest stuff of all time, IMO.

I got excited when I saw the garbage cans of trimmings in your 1st pic. Looks like the start of a fantastic compost pile! The following is not what you SHOULD do, it's what I would probably do, just from looking at the pictures and knowing my physical limitations.

The patches of ivy - pic 2 - I would chop it all down to the ground, cover it with tarps, then the trimmings in those garbage cans. Rocks, bricks, cinderblocks, anything heavy will be necessary to hold the edges down tight. Cardboard - you'll never get it to lay flat enough or be able to overlap it enough to prevent the ivy from finding the cracks and coming through. The trimmings would help add weight, block light, and just cover the tarps with something organic looking. Leave tarped until you're sure it's dead (uncover a little corner next spring and see if any green leaves start to appear,) or you are ready to start shoveling out the roots. Realistically, it's going to be extremely hard to dig ONLY the ivy roots without digging up a bunch of the tree roots. Once the ivy is well smothered and dead, I would look for shade seeds - columbine and the like. Digging under any tree is not a good idea (for the sake of the tree) and extremely difficult.

In pic 3, the big tree behind will have roots within the ivy, but not enough to permanently prevent digging. You could smother first (which ensures you only dig once) or start with digging. If you try to dig out the live roots, little pieces can continue to grow. But I do think it's reasonable to expect you could reclaim this bed and use it for another type of planting. Lasagna after digging.

Back to the trimmings, now that they've performed a service of holding your tarps down, designate a spot for your compost (if you haven't already!!) and add these to it / start the pile. Incidentally, you can also use the ivy that you will trim to smother itself on top of the tarps. That seems like poetic justice to me. After being cut and on a tarp all winter, it should be safe to add to compost pile also. By the end of next summer, you can have a pile of black gold that used to be weeds. As long as you don't put viable seeds, it shouldn't "cause" any new weeds.

Next to the house, pic 4, I would shovel out the roots to begin with, then start with cardboard and do lasagna. Be generous removing root balls and clumps to give yourself more room (height) for amendments, compost and mulch later. Before you begin with the cardboard, use a rake to create a gentle slope away from the house. If you do this soon, it will be great for planting in next spring. Then start with the structural plants, then whatever perennials or annuals you like, breaking through the cardboard under them when planting. That is a lovely space for some trellises. I would stick to Clematis or other small, well-behaved...

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 2:32PM
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