Weed Warriors: Civilians to the Rescue of Local Parks

IMG_2834.JPGBy Kathy Jentz


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No! It’s an ordinary citizen ripping out weeds from our local parklands and making it safe for native plants to grow and flourish! Ordinary folks from all over the Washington, DC, region are giving up precious hours of free time to clear out invasive exotic plants threatening to take over local parks.


You’ve heard of the curse of the south, Kudzu. Well, it is making its way up here north of the Beltway. In addition there are several other exotic species of plants that are taking over and forcing out local native species. These include (but are not limited to): English Ivy, Garlic Mustard, Tree of Heaven, Japanese Knotweed, Asiatic Bittersweet, and Multiflora Rose


Why not just let the plants battle it out for themselves? Invasive exotic plants crowd out the native species and soon take over a forest. When all the trees are covered in kudzu or ivy vines there is a mono-culture. The result is a loss of biodiversity and this impacts the animal population directly. Birds lose their habitats and butterflies lose their nectar sources.


What can you do? Join a local Weed Warrior program and take their free training programs to learn first how to spot the invasive plants and then how to correctly remove them. For instance, when removing a vine engulfing a tree to do not attempt to pull it down. Instead, use a sharp pair of pruners to cut out a section of the vine – make one cut as low as you can and another as high as you can – then remove the section. The top growth will die back from lack of nutrients and you will avoid harming the tree underneath.


Weed Warriors also learn about the invasive plants in their different stages of growth. With Garlic Mustard it is imperative to catch and pull it before the plant develops seed. It is a biennial, which means it blooms in its second year of growth, and looks entirely different the first year from the second. Positive identification is essential so that you know you are pulling an exotic invasive out and not one of the many similar native varieties.


Proper disposal of the weed plants us another part of Weed Warrior training. Many exotics can re-colonize from cuttings or stem segments, as well as seed dispersal. Some plants are fine to leave lying where they are pulled, but many should be bagged and taken out of the parks and not added to compost piles.


The Weed Warrior program was started in 1999 by Carole Bergmann, Forest Ecologist for Montgomery County Parks system. Carole (pictured above) says, “I felt duty-bound to start the program to get those interested in preserving the natural world together and preserving our ecosystems.” The group in Montgomery County now has over 450 volunteers and has spawned many sister groups in neighboring jurisdictions.


Weed Warriors receive the reward of a job well done for volunteering. They also get to enjoy the great outdoors, learn about local flora and fauna, and enjoy each others’ company along the way. Some Weed Warrior programs give out nifty items to identify volunteers working in the parks such as hats and gloves with the group logo on them.


For free Weed Warrior program training in Montgomery County and to learn more about non-native invasive plants, call 301.495.2464 or visit www.mc-mncppc.org. Classes fill up fast so plan ahead. They are offered monthly from March to October.


A Weed Warrior program has started in Prince George‘s County as well. For information on the PG County Weed Warrior program and upcoming training plus project dates, you can visit http://www.pgparks.com/things/partnersnparks.html or call 301.627.7755. There is no cost, but a short training session is required.


For information on the Weed Warriors Program in Reston, VA, contact Ha Brock, Volunteer Coordinator at 703.435.7986 or email habrock@reston.org. In Baltimore City, Janelle Burke is the Weed Warrior Program coordinator. She can be reached at 410.396.0359 or janelleburke@baltimorecity.gov .


The National Park Service, the Alice Ferguson Foundation, and the Nature Conservancy are making great inroads in cleaning up the Potomac Gorge river corridor and Potomac Watershed with their Weed Warrior/Weed Buster programs. Contact 301.292.5665 or visit http://www.potomaccleanup.org for information.


Local citizens are often banding together to combat weeds in their own backyards that border park lands, such as the Friends of Sligo Creek (www.fosc.org) and the New Weed Warrior (aka Weed Buster) programs are popping up all over, like — well, weeds. Contact your local parks office to find out about a program near you.



Become a Montgomery Parks Weed Warrior!

Help us with the battle against non-native invasive plants. Trained Weed Warriors are authorized to work on M-NCPPC parkland on their own schedules and at their own pace. They may also participate in a variety of group projects.

To become a Certified Weed Warrior, you must complete a two-part online course and participate in a two-hour field training session with the forest ecologist. The training stresses proper identification of invasive plants, correct removal and control techniques, and working safely in the woods. Whether you work individually or with a group, you will contribute to the control of non-native invasive vegetation that seriously threatens 34,000 acres of county parkland.

Take the next step to becoming a Certified Weed Warrior by registering for our special up-county field training class at Little Bennett Regional Park on June 30, 2010. The class will begin at 5:30 pm and last two hours. Register by calling our Volunteer Coordinator, Paul Carlson, at 301-962-1343 or by sending him an email at mcp-weedwarriors@montgomeryparks.org. All we need is your name, email address, daytime phone, and city of residence. For more details, and training dates from July through October, visit www.weedwarrior.org.


Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. She has been a Weed Warrior for four years and is constantly battling Garlic Mustard in local parks. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at www.washingtongardener.com and welcomes your gardening questions.

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About the Author

Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at @WDCgardener on Twitter and welcomes your local DMV gardening questions.