One lesson I learned from Sara Stein, author of Noah’s Garden and Planting Noah’s Garden, was that non-native (also called alien) plants typically start growing and blooming before the native plants–at least in North America. That is because the climate they originally came from was milder, or warmed up gradually and consistently, and that is what they’ve adapted to.
Native plants are accustomed to our roller-coaster kind of spring, where it can warm up to 62F after a low of 17, and where in four days the high is expected to be a mere 30F. Native plants are not so eager to expose their tender new growth to the last salvos of winter. They rely on a combination of soil temperature, air temperature, amount of daylight, soil moisture–and probably other factors we haven’t yet discovered–to indicate when it is time for them to leaf out and bloom.Quite frankly, I am thankful for plants like snowdrops and crocuses, which aren’t native here but are tough enough to grow and bloom through the last weeks of winter. But when it comes to non-native shrubby honeysuckles, that early growth presents a problem. The honeysuckle shrubs I am talking about are Tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica) and Morrow’s honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii), and their hybrid offspring, showy bush honeysuckle (Lonicera x bella). I am not sure which one grows here, but when I first tried to identify this shrub at my old house, I decided it was Tartarian honeysuckle, so I’m going with that. Here’s the problem: Tartarian honeysuckle is leafing out–right now–all over our woods. None of the spring ephemerals are even poking out of the ground yet. None of the native shrubs are blooming or leafing out. By the time the native spring ephemerals are blooming, Tartarian honeysuckle will be fully leafed out and shading these native plants. They won’t get enough sun to build up their energy reserves and will eventually die out. Birds love the berries of these non-native shrubs and where birds perch and poop, more shrub honeysuckles will show up. Tartarian honeysuckle is native to Russia, “where it is found in a wide range of habitats and can tolerate desiccating winds, near-drought conditions, and temperatures ranging from -50 to +110 degrees F,” according to a University of Maine Cooperative Extension Bulletin. It’s hardly surprising that so many of those pooped-out seeds germinate and thrive, given such adaptability.
What happens is these shrubby honeysuckles take over the understory of the woods, creating a monoculture. If you are riding in a car past wooded areas, you can pick out the honeysuckle invasion by the green haze of these shrubs, precociously leafing out before any of the native vegetation. During mud season I take the time to eliminate some of these shrubs. Since there are so many of them, I prioritize and start with the ones I find most inconvenient, because they are blocking a path or a view.This mature honeysuckle shrub was blocking the path to a pondside bench. You can see the stumps of the branches I removed last year in the picture. This year I removed the whole shrub.
The soft, moist soil of mud season makes pulling small to medium shrubs a pretty successful operation, even for a middle-aged weakling like me. That is the method I try first, and if it works, one more shrub down and out. However, for mature shrubs that approach trees in size, I have to take a different tack. First I cut off as many branches with loppers as needed to access the main trunk. Then I cut the main trunk with either a reciprocating saw with a pruning blade or a hand pruning saw. I immediately brush a 20% solution of glyphosate on the cut stump. I keep the solution in a rubber cement jar–another tip I learned from Sara Stein.
It is hard work, and it seems like I am hardly making a dent in the problem. For every shrub I pull out, there are dozens still remaining. Some are on steep banks and I really don’t see how I will get them out without falling into the creek below. But every shrubby honeysuckle I do pull out is one less shrub that can make berries and spread even further. This is a perfect chore for mild days in earliest spring and late autumn, when there’s really no other gardening I can do.
Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogosphere. “It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!”