Life after garlic mustard?

hoyasahoyMay 30, 2009

I've just pulled up all the fruiting plants I could find in a garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) infestation covering about 10,000 sq ft. of shaded ground, and I'm thinking about what comes next.

I understand that it takes 2 to 5 years to exhaust the seed bank in the soil. Next year's crop has already germinated from seed deposited last year or before, and I may use a glyphosate herbicide on it this summer, knowing that several years' more work is in store for me.

But nature abhors a vacuum, and I'm wondering what I can plant cheaply to cover the ground and make it harder for the garlic mustard or other weeds to re-invade. (There's Ranunculus repens on site biding its time to take over from the garlic mustard.)

I've read that the National Park Service overseeds garlic mustard infestations with Fescue to offer the seedlings some competition, but that must be in sun. I'm wondering what I can use in shade, preferably a native cool-season plant that's vigorous but not too weedy.

I've thought about overseeding with northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), though I'm afraid I may be replacing one weed with another. Though a native, it can be very aggressive, and may thwart my plans to plant a woodland garden eventually. Deschampsia caespitosa is another native grass that might be a little more manageable.

Can anyone suggest any other candidates, vigorous natives whose seed is cheaply available? Zone 5b, under widely spaced sugar maples, on a well-drained south slope with rich acid soil, in valley bottomland a few yards upslope from a seasonally wet meadow. There's existing partridgeberry and lady fern and Aster cordifolius, to give you an idea of the site conditions.

Has anyone managed to extirpate a garlic mustard infestation of this size and successfully re-vegetate it with shade-loving natives? Or is "control" the best I can hope for? (Eternal vigilance being the price of liberty.)

I garden in Massachusetts.



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It moved into my garden from my neighbor's yard years ago and has been with me ever since. I pull up all the flowering plants as I spot them, and it is almost under control now in the area that is infested with Yellow Archangel.


I did notice that it has not returned yet in the shady area I covered with pieces of plastic last summer. Maybe you could try circulating a few plastic sheets through the property over the worst spots, and then plant them up a bit at a time.

I suspect the birds may eat the seed and help spread it.

I'm surprised it's giving you so much trouble; I remember it as being a rather gentile plant in Zone 5. Here in Zone 6 it is a nightmare. There was a solid plot of it next to a highway exit ramp near here, and I notice that they somehow got rid of it and have grass there now.

To be honest, in gardening, I have found grass more difficult to get rid of than garlic mustard. At least the gm is a biennial.

Maybe you could initially plant some native shrubs instead of woodland plants? They might help shade it out. I have some Allegheny Viburnums that nothing will grow under.

Raspberry bushes can cast a lot of shade, too.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 11:37PM
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Thanks, Eibren. Just driving through the area, I see lots of large pure stands of it in minimally managed areas. There's a highly sophisticated garden center in town that evokes the spirit of Martha Stewart but has their perennials on tables with fruiting garlic mustard leaning against them. It's hardly a gentle plant here.

You may be right about the birds, and perhaps the deer contribute to its spread, too.

The worst of the infested area's too shady for raspberries, and it's too big and the budget too small to cover with shrubs.

There are some stands of woodland aster on the property, and I've also been considering harvesting the fruiting aster and using the seed to re-vegetate.


    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 5:03AM
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You may find that the aster sends out runners just under the soil. If it does it is easier on you and the plant to lift up a stem, pull lightly toward the main plant, if the stem shows root growth cut the feeder from the mother plant. The runner will appear to wilt badly but water after planting and it should start growing. You can cut out much of the top growth to help establish the plant. I find that most of the seeds of the wild asters in this area are not fully formed.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 12:15AM
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Thanks, maifleur. I'm not sure if the plant in question is A. cordifolius or A divaricatus. There is a large solid patch about 15 ft across elsewhere on the property. I find a similar aster growing as a common weed in dry heavily shaded urban sites where seeds have to be coming in on the wind.

It's less that I love the plant as that it's tough and vigorous and available onsite for free.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 11:34AM
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Yes! There certainly is life after garlic mustard! I work for The Stewardship Network and we have been holding an annual Garlic Mustard Challenge- last year we pulled 128,000 lbs and this year our goal is 200,000 lbs of pulled garlic mustard! On sites that have been pulled durign the Challenge over the years there have been visible impacts- such as decreasing size and health of the plants, decreasing numbers, and most importantly return of the native fauna. Check out this quote from one of our participants from Oakland County, Michigan:

"After nearly 5 years of garlic mustard pulling -- thanks to the efforts of a single community volunteer, Howard Knorr, this spring we saw trout lilies growing back in the riparian floodplain like never before! 'I've never seen trout lilies here before! It's just always been garlic mustard,' Howard commented when we first walked through our work area. We're all looking forward to seeing what else is coming back in this area as the spring progresses. I think this is a great success story on the battle against garlic mustard."
-Heather Huffstutler

Please report your bags/pounds of pulled garlic mustard to our website so they can be counted towards the 200,000 lb goal!

Also, check out the most recent updates on The Stewardship Network's Garlic Mustard Challenge:

Thank you and best of luck the battle against garlic mustard- remember you are not alone and there is light at the end of the tunnel!

Meghan Hendricks
The Stewardship Network

Here is a link that might be useful: Garlic Mustard Challenge Results

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 12:34PM
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We too have been pulling out a field of garlic mustard year after year and are wondering what to plant in its place. We have some beautiful, natural woodland plants emerging here and there (virginia bluebells, jack in the pulpit) but the plants that are taking advantage of the absence of the garlic mustard are MORE WEEDS. Virginia Creeper, Wild Grapevine, burdock, and deadly nightshade are now covering the whole area we pulled. When we pull that back the dandelions, crabgrass and who knows what else fill in the bare earth. Desperately need ideas.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2009 at 3:39PM
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I don't think of Virginia Creeper as a weed but to each his/her own. Around here Jewel Weed grows well in many of the same places that Garlic Mustard does. I think it is available from some catalogs. Dogbane is another aggressive native around here. Sedges and ferns might act as a filler for you. As a policy decision, I would take the aggressive but native sea oats over the aggressive but non-native garlic mustard (fighting fire with fire sort of). Your existing natives might fill in more as you get rid of the garlic mustard. What kind of fescue does the Nat'l Park Service use? Creeping Red Fescue will tolerate some shade. They might also mow the fescue to keep down the garlic mustard (??).

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 9:24PM
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