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The trifecta of invasive plant species

Here are three space invaders to look for, and remove, from your lawn and garden

May 8, 2012

CREEPING CHARLIE

WHERE IT GROWS: Shady or sunny, it makes no difference to Creeping Charlie.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Use a broadleaf herbicide, making sure it has three ingredients - 2,4-D, dicamba, and MCPP. To protect trees, only apply this once per season over tree roots. (You are generally over tree roots if you spray under the crown of the tree.) To be sure you are away from roots, spray at least two feet beyond the farthest reach of tree branches. Not all weedkillers with these three ingredients are created equal. The product that seems to have the best balance and chemical versions of them is Weed Beater Ultra, made by Bonide. A second treatment with the weedkiller trichlopyr will be needed. Also, horticulture companies can fight it with chemicals not available to homeowners.

BEST TIME TO FIGHT IT: First treatment in spring when the Creeping Charlie flowers are in full bloom. Then, use the other weedkiller in fall after a frost that is cold enough to kill impatiens. The two types of weedkillers - the 2.4-D, dicamba and MCPP type and the trichlopyr type - can be interchanged, with one used in spring and the other in fall or reversing which is used in spring and which in fall.

GARLIC MUSTARD

WHERE IT GROWS: It likes the semi-shady edges of woodlands and near hedges and bushes best

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: It's best to rip it out while it's young and still growing close to the ground. Pull gently so you get the entire root, which is quite long, even on a small plant. The lifespan of garlic mustard is only two years. The first year it's fairly low to the ground gathering up strength for its second year, when it shoots up in early spring. It flowers quickly and, shortly after that, it releases thousands of seeds. Pulling it or using a herbicide on it after it releases its seeds is useless to stop its spread. The parent plant will die at the end of the second season, anyway. You can tell if a plant has released its seeds because the seed pods can be seen on the plant. If there are too many plants to pull, use a broadleaf herbicide, making sure the label says it will kill garlic mustard.

BEST TIME TO FIGHT IT: Early spring or late fall even after a light frost. If you spray then, you will be less likely to harm native broadleaf plants you want, such as trillium and May apples that provide nourishment to birds and animals. After you spray, you can wait the time prescribed on the herbicide label and then seed the area with a mix of wildflowers, either a woodland edge or meadow mix, to replace the ones that the garlic mustard crowded out.

DISPOSAL: To avoid spreading the seeds, don't put seed-bearing plants anywhere except a plastic bag. Most communities allow it to be put in regular garbage.

BUCKTHORN

WHERE IT GROWS: It really likes the edges of woods, but grows pretty much anywhere in yards.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Mow it often in hopes of sapping its strength. You can cut it, but it will sprout back unless you use an herbicide specifically for woody plants, being careful not to get it on other plants. Buckthorn is spread through its berries that birds eat.

BEST TIME TO FIGHT IT: Mid- to late-autumn, because that is when the sap flows back to the roots, carrying the herbicide with it to kill the plant from the roots. There are also fewer other plants to worry about harming when applying the herbicide.

DISPOSAL: Can go with regular yard waste.

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