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Invasive plants a problem for everyone

When I talk to people about invasive species, many times their eyes begin to glaze over. For most, a plant is a plant, a bug is a bug ... you get the idea. There are also a number of avid gardeners and naturalists who underestimate the impact of invasive organisms.

A task force comprising several natural resource groups developed invasive.org. One goal of this site is to educate the public about existing and emerging issues. The groups define an invasive species (group of similar organisms) as a non-native organism whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic harm, environmental harm or harm to human health.

The term “invasive” is used for the most aggressive species. These species grow and reproduce rapidly, causing major disturbance to the areas in which they are present.

Here in Middle Georgia, kudzu is the “poster child” for invasive species — but we are inundated with many others. Interestingly, a number of the invasives in the U.S. were brought here intentionally. Some might have had a specific purpose, such as erosion control, while others might have desirable landscape attributes.

Have you seen any chinaberry trees, Tree of Heaven, mimosa, privet, wisteria, tallow (or popcorn) trees? If you haven’t heard of them, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve seen them thriving along the interstates, in neighborhoods and lining the banks of the Ocmulgee River.

Why does it matter? According to the website:

▪ Invasive species, if left uncontrolled, can and will limit land use now and into the future.

▪ The longer we ignore the problem, the more difficult and more expensive the battle for control will become.

▪ Invasive species can decrease your ability to enjoy hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, boating and other outdoor recreational activities.

▪ The United States suffers from about $1.1 billion per year in economic losses due to exotic, invasive species.

▪ About 42 percent of threatened or endangered species are at risk due to non-native, invasive species.

Whether you realize it or not, these plants can impact a number of areas. In natural areas, thickets of privet can reduce space, light, nutrients and water for native species. Consider walking on the river trail at the Ocmulgee National Monument to contrast the parts of the trail where invasives have been removed versus where they have not.

Why does it matter to you as a homeowner? Invasive species that are in nearby natural areas — or even those you’ve planted — can quickly cause landscape issues. Seedlings must be weeded out so they don’t take over the desirable species that you painstakingly planted.

Plants such as wisteria and spreading bamboo can move onto neighboring properties. The seeds of plants, such as nandina and ligustrum, which appear to be manageable in your yard, can cause infestations miles away thanks to birds.

Aside from the plant world, there are insects and diseases that fall into the realm of invasive species as well. Japanese beetles have a host range of 400 plant species with the adults feeding on ornamentals while the grubs wreak havoc on turf.

As I’ve said previously, prevention goes a long way. Don’t plant invasive plants in your landscape to begin with. There are many desirable natives and non-invasive alternative plants that can be added instead. If these problematic plants are growing at an existing site, remove and destroy seedheads.

For cultural and chemical control strategies, as well as many more details related to invasive species, visit invasive.org. If you are interested in gaining more first-hand knowledge, take a look at the Upcoming Events section below.

Upcoming Events

First Detectors Workshop: May 24-25, sponsored by the University of Georgia, the Georgia Forestry Commission and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The program offers educational materials, tools and training to help identify, report and manage invasive species. Hands-on portion of class will be held at Amerson Park in Macon. $50. For more information, contact Karan Rawlins at krawlins@uga.edu or 229-386-3298; Register by May 10.

Contact county Extension agent Karol Kelly at karolk@uga.edu.

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