Fight The Good Fight: Down With Invasives

July 31, 2014
Lindsay DeMarzo
Stormwater-Friendly Yard

If you’re anything like me your inbox is frequently filled with newsletters, some important, many not so much.  (I often wonder what the world would be like if we were only allowed to send 3 emails a day.  Better make them good!) So while I was cleaning out my inbox the other day, I came across Craig Highfield’s Forestry for the Bay newsletter.  After having attended a workshop by Craig, who is the Forestry for the Bay Program Manager, I’ve learned his newsletters are typically not what you want to delete before reading.  I put Craig’s email to the test, to make sure it wasn’t just interesting to me, and tweeted a link to one of the documents he recommended.  Lo and behold a Twitter conversation arose and new followers joined in.

What was so great about this newsletter, you ask?  Well the topic is invasive plants and since that’s something I think we all struggle with it hit home for a lot of people, no matter if we have a yard or if we see them along a path.  Now, it’s not a life and death situation, I admit (well it is for the plants), but don’t we all ask ourselves at least once a year: Is it worth pulling/spraying/cutting when I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll see it again as soon as I turn back around?  Should we just surrender? Not to mention how do I know which is invasive and which is native? 

How do we stop this madness?  Well first of all we must understand that invasives are very smart and sneaky species.  They pop up in the earliest of spring to establish themselves and start spreading as wide and as far as they can reach before the natives have a chance to say “hello sunshine.”  You may have noticed that the first green you see in spring is often from invasive plants.  They are, after all, invaders and apparently they have to get up pretty early in the season to fool the natives.

Why are invasives so bad?  Well it’s not so much that they are so bad, but the question is more why are natives so good?  Native plants provide food and shelter to native animal species, thus ensuring ecosystems function properly.  Natives also are more comfortable in their own shoes, meaning they don’t need maintenance, fertilizer, or even extra water to survive if they are planted in their native habitat.  Therefore, they help stabilize the ground more, absorb more rainwater, and reduce our alteration of ecosystems.  Sure, invasives can stabilize if their roots are big and they too absorb water, etc., but they just aren’t going to cut it quite like a native would and by allowing them to spread, we prohibit natives from growing.

Once you decide to take on the battle and you saddle up and start digging away at those invasives, what do you do with them?  Much to my dismay I frequently see my neighbors dumping yard waste in our shared open space that is a Forest Conservation Easement area.  Given the smart and sneaky ways of invasives, noted above, they are just going to root in the forest and take over there.  Not the answer, nor is it legal.  One option is composting, but be sure to dry out any invasives and weeds before tossing them into your compost bin or they will thrive off the rich soil in progress before the heat of the compost has a chance to break them down.  Another option is to bag up in PAPER bags (get FREE bags here: for curb side yard trim pick up (or bring to the Alpha Ridge Landfill).  If the invasives have flowers or seeds, putting them in a black plastic bag until they turn to mush is a good way of making sure they don’t spread.  Then compost or dump them in the trash to be sure.

So in the spirit of information sharing (that is the point of social media after all, right?), and in the spirit of fighting the good fight against invasives, here is a list of helpful documents (including a great picture guide and a list of native plant nurseries) and resources.  Many thanks to Craig for half of this list.

Mistaken Identity – invasive vs native plant guide with great pictures
Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas
Native Plant Nurseries of the Chesapeake
University of Maryland Home and Garden Info Center
Howard County Master Gardeners
More on natives, soil testing and Bay Scaping
Forestry for the Bay

~Lindsay, OES Staff