So said our CEO, Meg, the other day while talking about how she can’t help interrupting her dog-walking to pull up garlic mustard. That’s about as apt a description as any; I truly think that once you know how destructive this plant is and see just how widespread it is, it becomes imperative for you to remove as much as humanly possible before it goes to seed.
And while it is great to simply yank it up wherever you see it, doing so in the context of the Urban EcoSteward program can prove even more rewarding. When you take responsibility for a plot of land over the long term, you really start to see the difference from year to year. (You also see just how long it takes to get rid of this stuff.)
I picked my EcoSteward site (along the Homewood Trail in Frick Park) in 2007 because when I first wandered by it in the springtime, garlic mustard was pretty much the only plant I saw on the ground, with a stray native jewelweed here and there. The site had other, larger invasives, like privet and bush honeysuckle, but those are comparatively easy to remove–a little elbow grease and a visit from the honeysuckle popper and they’re pretty much done.
But garlic mustard removal is something that requires a multi-year commitment. The plant produces no seeds its first year, but it overwinters and produces them in year two. Obviously the seed-bearing plants are the priority for removal, and often it takes all your available time just tending to those. But I tend to get a little obsessive, and if I’m working in an area where there are a ton of first-year plants, I try to pull as many of them up as I can (rationalizing that it will make my work easier next year).
This is my second spring of pulling garlic mustard on my site. Last year I came back on three separate occasions; this year, I knocked it all out in an hour and a half. There’s still a significant amount, but it’s nowhere near the thick blanket that used to cover the hillside. Instead, I have a growing colony of jewelweed, and it seems like everywhere I turn I uncover a new and interesting native plant: Solomon’s seal, may apple, goldenrod, Virginia creeper, and lots of little tree saplings. They join the white oaks I planted this winter and the rattlesnake master plants I installed this spring.
So don’t despair, those of you who can’t help cringing when you see a huge colony of garlic mustard. The Parks Conservancy’s volunteers continue to go after it, our EcoStewards especially. The increasing population of natives on my site is proof that if you commit to working on a site for a few years, you’ll start to see some changes. And there’s nothing more irresistible than helping to create a healthy habitat.
Want to help rid your favorite park space of garlic mustard? Read more about the Urban EcoSteward program.