Tag Archives: garden

Attack of the Garlic Mustard

The name of this plant may conjure thoughts of a tasty meal. But for gardeners and native plant lovers, garlic mustard has a bitter flavor: it’s an invasive species brought over by the settlers in the 1800s, and it’s taking over yards and forest floors.

How did garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) move from spicing up a few colonial gardens to dominating the northeast? Here are just a few of this plant’s clever adaptations:

  • Its roots leach chemicals that destroy the important fungal partners of nearby plants.
  • It makes a type of chemical antifreeze that helps it stay green in cold weather, allowing it to shoot up as soon as the snow is gone.
  • Each plant can release a thousand or more seeds.
  • Even after you remove the plant from your yard, its seeds can hang out in the soil for five years (or more).
  • It is toxic to some insects. Some types of butterfly eggs laid on its leaves will fail to hatch.

How to ID Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard’s most iconic features are its green heart-shaped leaves with deep veins and tiny four-petaled white flowers. Note that the flowers don’t appear during the plant’s first year. You can also employ the smell test: true to its name, when crushed it gives off a garlicky smell.

Removing Garlic Mustard

May into early June is the best time to remove this plant from your yard. Many of the plants are flowering, making them easy to identify, but they haven’t yet had time to make seeds.

To remove a garlic mustard plant, grab it at the very base, and twist while pulling upwards. If the soil is loose, you may be able to pull up the roots, eliminating any chance that the plant could regrow. But even if you’re only able to pull up the above-ground portion, you will have at least stopped the seed-making process for this year.

Once you’ve picked the plants, put them in a plastic bag for disposal. Don’t dump them in your compost heap, or they may re-root or release seeds. Whatever you do, be sure to keep at it—because of those long-lasting seeds, you may be battling garlic mustard for years to come.

Autumn Is The Time To Plant

Most think spring is the perfect time for planting. The nurseries are stocked with colorful plants and everything is in bloom…but that’s the problem. Spring turns into summer and before you know it the temperatures are in the mid 80s and it hasn’t rained for weeks.

In our recent New England springs, the weather has gone from a late winter freeze into summer heat wave within a few days. This puts stress on a plant that is pushing out new leaves to make food (going through the process of photosynthesis), trying to reproduce (make flowers), and grow new roots.

What most people don’t realize is that autumn is the perfect time to plant. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Now that leaf, seed, and flower production are complete, plants have nothing but cooler days to contend with and roots are the only thing they have to grow.
  • Along with the cooler temperatures comes end-of-season sales. That Oxydendron (Sourwood) tree you wanted all season? It now costs less and it’s showing its beautiful burgundy autumn foliage.
  • Watering is also easier now because, unlike summer months, town water bans have usually been lifted.
  • Need to patch your lawn? Do it in the autumn! Spring and fall are seasons when grass is the greenest. Grass will sprout in the warm days of the autumn and continue to grow until the ground freezes.
  • Plant bulbs for spring color in the autumn. Bulbs need to be planted in the autumn to develop roots before the ground freezes. Early blooming crocus give pollinators such as honey bees nectar early in the season when very few other flowers are in bloom. Daffodils are deer and rodent resistant and live for many years. Tulips add late April and May color.

A little bit of work in the cool of the autumn will give you a beautiful yard in the spring. So what are you waiting for? Get planting!

Photo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net