Ok, so it really is winter, major snow this week, all your gardening is done. Nope!

If you have any wilder areas around your property, right now is the best time to identify the unwanted invasive species. Along with my work with Noble County Master Gardeners, I have been involved with several groups in northeast Indiana that help to educate the community about native plants and invasive species.

At this time of year, often the only thing that is still green is the invasive Asian Bush (or Japanese) Honeysuckle with its fat red berries. Those berries are food for the birds, but after digesting, those seeds go everywhere a bird goes…when they ‘go.’ That bush, when small, easily can be pulled from the ground, root and all.

However, this bush can grow up to 17 feet tall and for large infestations, you will need to cut all the way to the ground and then immediately brush with glyphosate or Roundup or Brush-tox or other recommended chemical for the specific plant you are removing (always use chemicals EXACTLY how the label describes).

Make sure you choose a low- to no-wind day to put down poisons. On windy days you will get drift – besides it not being safe for eyes. Stay away from uncontrolled spraying.

At a recent seminar on removing invasives, I learned that you shouldn’t wait after cutting to brush with poison. Many invasives will grow a skin on the cut almost immediately. That skin will block the effectiveness of the poison. Two identifying factors of this bush are a hollow core to the older branches and the leaves taper to a point. This plant is listed on the Do Not Sell invasive species list.

Another invasive that has a few leaves left at this time of year is Autumn Olive. It was the first tree I encountered when I bought our property. Its pretty leaves have a gray underside and a wavy green top side, very fragrant flowers attract birds in the spring and the millions of berries in September and October are edible.

In the 1830s, autumn olives were brought to the U.S. from Asia and according to Invasive.org, “widely planted as an ornamental, for wildlife habitat, as windbreaks and to restore deforested and degraded lands.”

In the 1970s, the plant was put on the Do Not Sell invasive species list. But by that time the genie was out of the bottle! This tree needs to be cut to the ground and brushed with chemicals. Watch out when you cut, as the young branches have enormous thorns.

Bright red bushes are another indicator of an invasive species that can be identified at this time of year. Barberries, with their pretty red berries and stubby hard thorns, are out in force during the early winter. Introduced from Japan in the late 1800’s as an ornamental plant and possibly because it is deer-resistant, this invasive grows so densely that it will shut out all native plants. It also is a harbor for the kind of ticks that carry Lyme Disease. Barberry can propagate underground and via bird distribution, so once you have one, you will have more. Barberry is on many states’ official Do Not Sell invasive species list and it is ranked among the most undesirable plants in the United States.

You see a pattern here with the Do Not Sell list? In fact, there is a list of 44 plants that are now illegal to sell, gift or transport in Indiana. In April of 2020, The Indiana Terrestrial Plant Rule went into full effect. Attached here is a full list of the plants and an explanation of the rule. https://www.in.gov/dnr/files/ep-terrestrial_plant_rule.pdf.

Well with all this demolition, what is a gardener to do? As a friend of mine, who is also aware of invasive species said, “It’s kind of a bummer going on nature walks, as I keep pointing out what needs to be killed.” The price of knowledge can be a burden.

That said, what can we plant after all this destruction? The good thing is that nature will return. If you rid the land around you of the invasive honeysuckle, autumn olive and barberry (among others), nature will take back her land. If you would like to nudge specific plants into your landscape, here are some suggestions:

Autumn Olive: Replace with Service Berry, Chokeberry, Winterberry, Dogwood

Asian Bush Honeysuckle: Replace with: Ninebark, American Elderberry

Japanese Barberry: Replace with Meadowsweet, Fragrant Sumac, Ninebark

So, on one of these crisp, sunny, windless days, get out there with your gloves, protective equipment (mask, hard shoes, safety glasses and good gloves), loppers and/or a powered saw or chainsaw. Take a buddy, who helps with branches and keeps pace with the cutting to dab or paint the poison on the cut stump. It is a great crisp-day activity, and in the end, you will be rewarded with a healthier ecosystem, more native plants, and more wildlife — and you will be doing the State of Indiana a favor.

Cecilie Keenan is a Purdue Master Gardener in Noble County and the author of The Noble Gardener. Contact her at keenancd@aol.com for information on gardening topics.

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