Thursday, April 29th, 2010
In the South, they have kudzu. Here in the Midwest, we have garlic mustard.
Actually, it’s spreading beyond the Midwest. Introduced for its herbal properties from Europe in the 1800s, it’s now wreaking havoc from Maine to Alaska. To call it invasive is an understatment, like calling the Hoover Dam a fair-to-middlin’ piece of architecture. Garlic mustard is such a scourge that it poses a genuine threat to woodlands, where it rapidly takes over, crowding out native plants. In Washington, it’s putting entire forests at risk. You can read about that here.
This part kills me:
Sasha Shaw, a noxious weed specialist with King County, said it’s possible the plant could have been introduced to the area in gravel dropped recently by a visitor from the Midwest.
Oh, sure, blame some hapless Midwesterner, tromping through the pristine Pacific Northwest with gravel on his shoes. Or maybe the visitor was just walking around, aimlessly dropping rocks here and there. You can blame the Midwest for many things—Jerry Springer, Woody Hayes, Bobby Knight, fires on Lake Erie, Big Butter Jesus—but don’t try to pin the spread of garlic mustard on us, too.
The village I call home is doing its part, or trying to. We’re blessed with many, many acres of woodlands, and every spring we have a garlic mustard weed-out day, during which an army of volunteers takes to the woods with heaps of plastic bags, yanking up this stuff by the armload.
Despite these weed-out efforts, lots of property owners seem to remain blissfully unaware. My heart sinks every spring when I see roadside rights-of-way teeming with this stuff. It takes tremendous restraint to not stop in the middle of the street and start pulling it up. Don’t the neighbors see it? But then they don’t seem to notice the buckthorn, either. And that has thorns.
The good news is, garlic mustard is pretty easy to pull up, especially if it’s in moist soil, which is where I usually spot it. Small plants have fairly shallow roots, which also helps in the yanking department. Once it’s the size of this sucker in my yard, though, it’ll have a taproot. (Dear reader, I allowed it to flower just to have a specimen for you to see; you’re welcome.) And just like that other taprooted nuisance, the dandelion, it needs to be eradicated down to the tip of its life source, or you’ll just have to yank it all over again next spring. (Or maybe sooner; I’m not sure because I’ve never left a taproot behind. When it comes to garlic mustard, I don’t mess around.)
If you remove garlic mustard before it flowers, you can throw it on the compost heap. If it’s already flowered, though, dispose of it in the trash; otherwise the seeds will contaminate your compost. The same rule applies if you’re lucky enough to live in a community that recycles residents’ yard waste as mulch. Repeat after me: no flowering garlic mustard in the communal collection bins. You’ll only be spreading the misery.