by 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 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.
Montgomery Parks Forest Ecologist Carol Bergman pointing out some
invasive weeds during Weed Warrior training at Wheaton Regional Park.
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
email@example.com. In Baltimore City, Janelle Burke is the Weed
Warrior Program coordinator. She can be reached at 410.396.0359 or
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.
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