Aliens Among Us

In case you were wondering, there ARE aliens among us.  They are, with few exceptions, little and green, and sneak in unobserved before growing to a full scale blight, smothering and consuming the landscape … Are you ready to take up the fight?  Work gloves, a carefully selected herbicide and the Ohio Administrative Code are the tools you’ll need to target these enemies of the state:  Noxious weeds.

How about this for a bit of Ohio trivia:  There are statutes in both the Ohio Administrative Code and the Ohio Revised Code that legislate plants deemed invasive or noxious in our state.  Of the 59 species, only three plants are found on both lists!  But what do those designations mean?  The Ohio Administrative Code lists the “Prohibited Noxious Weeds” in the state.  A noxious weed is “any plant or plant product that can directly or indirectly injure or cause damage to crops (including nursery stock or plant products), livestock, poultry or other interest of agriculture, irrigation, navigation, the natural resources of the United States, the public health, or the environment”.  The 38 species on the Ohio Revised Code’s “Invasive Plant Species” list was approved in January 2018.  It prohibits the sale or distribution of any plant on the list, as they are considered “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” 

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The Ohio Administrative Code has been a go-to source of information for me regarding which species are listed as “Prohibited Noxious Weeds”.  As a conservationist, it’s important to know which plants are merely annoying, and which ones are deemed problematic enough that we all need to be keeping an eye out.  I grew up hearing my dad bemoan Louis Bromfield’s introduction of multiflora rose to the neighborhood, spent 6 years helping professors at Miami fight the never-ending battle against bush honeysuckle (only to be followed along behind by a healthy crop of garlic mustard), my brother did battle in Wayne National Forest against stands of autumn olive, and now I’m learning that up here, ailanthus is the local plague.  Kudzu (or “The Plant that Ate the South”) is now making it’s way into our state, as is Palmer Amaranth and strains of herbicide resistant marestail…and the list goes on.

Admittedly, in the past, there were conservation initiatives that promoted wide-spread adoption of plants we now deem invasive (see the aforementioned kudzu and multiflora rose) or accidentally spreading species of concern beyond their accepted range (recent CRP and pollinator habitat seed mixes contaminated with Palmer amaranth).  However, if you’ve worked with our offices in the past few years, you know how persistently we ask for seed tags, in an attempt to be extra cautious about helping anything else gain a foothold in the county.  And even though it can’t make up for the sins of the past, there are currently several initiatives that assist in removal of noxious species from the landscape.  (If you are interested in learning how, call our office and ask Chuck about EQIP).  Remember: Plants are given designations on a state by state basis, so it is very important to know which weed seeds could be present in seed grown or purchased out of state.  What may be noxious in Ohio is not always the same case elsewhere.  A similar issue presents itself with feed and equipment coming from out of state. 

There are three things we’d ask you to consider this spring, to assist our beleaguered forests, fields, roadsides and waterways from competition by introduced species:

  1. Actively control the invasives and weeds on your property. 
    This is actually the ONE message that I wanted to write about (but I got sidetracked): Early spring is the BEST time to scout for and target problem plants.  As the plant is waking up and begins to draw water and nutrients, it is most vulnerable to chemical controls.  Please research herbicides for their effectiveness in controlling your target species -  A controlled application of the right product at the right rate will be far more effective than mechanical removal alone.  For some species, including ailanthus, mechanical control is counter-productive, while for others such as garlic mustard, it is very effective.  Bear in mind that many times, invasives will spring up in disturbed soils, which may be another case for judicious use of an herbicide. 
         If you are trying to control the plant later in the season, your first strategy should be to hamper reproduction, then to kill and remove it.  You will notice the effects of your efforts sooner if you can keep the infestation from spreading, so always try to stop it before it can reproduce.  If it is setting seed, bagging and removing seed heads can be an option as is burning. Removing the seeds from the site is recommended, since they can continue to mature even if they are removed from the plant. Also, it is important to remember that the seed bank will persist for years, and once an area is cleared the first time, ongoing monitoring is necessary to prevent a relapse.  
         Educate yourself and others about what these plants look like and how you can control them. You wouldn’t believe how many honeysuckle bushes are pruned and maintained in southern Ohio because they look like burning bush… Adopt the mindset of identifying and removing noxious species whenever you have the opportunity to do something about it:  You’ll find that marestail is everywhere (it was actually growing out of my neighbor’s gutters last summer) so don’t feel guilty if you become a “guerilla gardener” and yank it out!  If you’re out for a walk, pull the garlic mustard you come across, and remove it like you would other trash.  If you’re in the woods, pull up little multiflora roses and bush honeysuckles before they become monsters.  
  2. Be extra cautious about seed, feed and equipment that you bring onto your ground. 
    Try to use certified seed, or seed that has been tested by a reputable lab (The Ohio Department of Agriculture offers reasonable rates on seed tests).  Clean equipment that is leaving or coming onto your farm, especially if it is coming from a distance.  If you hire custom work done, use equipment that stays in the area.  Serve your livestock a “locavore” diet, instead of risking introduced weed seeds mixed in with their rations or hay.  Plan your rotations, so that manure applications go on before corn, when there may be more options for herbicide treatment to get things under control, if seed winds up present in the manure. 
  3. When choosing plants for landscaping, select native species.
    If you want to be part of the solution, plant native species. Many invasives were first introduced as garden and landscaping plants from Europe and Asia, which then thrived and spread without natural controls.  Native plants are an integral part of a healthy, diverse ecosystem, which will in turn support biological controls and give less opportunity for an introduced species to dominate. 

Please visit the following resources for more information about invasives in Ohio, and what can be done to keep them in check.

Ohio Revised Code, Section 901:5-30-01: List of Invasive Plant Species

Ohio Administrative Code, Section 901:5-37-01: List of Prohibited Noxious Weeds

Ohio Department of Natural Resources:

The Ohio Invasive Plants Council:    

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Karen joined the Holmes SWCD in January 2016.  A current resident of Wooster, Karen splits her time between Holmes and Wayne counties, and the “home farm” near Bellville, Ohio. Since joining the staff, she has been involved with a variety of tasks within the office, including soil testing and nutrient recommendations, water sampling, conservation planning, field days and educational programming.  She is on the state committee for the Ohio Envirothon, and is working with the multi-county water quality stewardship program, Credits 4 Conservation.  She spends Tuesday mornings at the Farmerstown sale barn to increase SWCD’s presence in southern Holmes County, and she has taken charge of the MWCD cover crop cost-share program.  The wide range of conservation projects, outreach, and technical assistance that the Soil and Water office provides is the main reason she looked for an opening in this field, and Karen considers herself extremely lucky to have found the perfect position in Holmes County.  She can be reached at 330-600-3107 or