Invasives 101: My Battle With Garlic Mustard, Part 2

Shari Altman

Photo by Shari Altman
Last week I filled you in on my battle with the invasive plant garlic mustard and showed you how to identify it. Today, I want to talk about what you can do if you find that you have a garlic mustard infestation. The good news is that you don't need to go out and purchase herbicides. The bad news is that it requires time and almost daily vigilance to keep this invasive under control.

Photo by Shari Altman
What is the easiest way to control garlic mustard?

It's simple, really. The most effective way to control garlic mustard is by hand-pulling. Remember, you want to pull out the entire S-shaped root, or else all of your pulling is for naught. The taller, second-year plants are relatively easy to pull. The smaller plants are a little more firmly rooted in the soil, but I have found that if you grab the plant at the bottom of the stem, you'll be more successful in pulling out the root. Pulling after it rains seems to help too.

I think this chore could easily be turned into a fun and educational family activity. After supper, let's all go on a garlic mustard search and destroy mission! It's never too early to teach children about invasive plants.

When is the best time to pull it up?

It's important to pull it up before it goes to seed. As I mentioned last week, it's a biennial and so it flowers and goes to seed in its second year of life. It's easiest to identify when it's flowering, so spring is a great time to begin pulling.

What do I do with it once I've pulled it?

Place the plants in a large, black trash bag. Before taking it to the landfill, the garlic mustard needs to rot completely so you'll have to store your bags somewhere until the plants decompose. From what I've read, most home compost piles aren't hot enough to kill the seeds so, unfortunately, composting is NOT recommended.

You can also eat it! Garlic mustard leaves (and the chopped taproot) are supposed to make a fine pesto. I'll be honest and say I haven't tried this. Before you do, please make sure you've identified the plant properly. Most importantly, don't risk it. If you don't know for sure, I would err on the side of caution and just bag it up.

Removing garlic mustard from the landscape enables the native plants to prosper. While pulling up the garlic mustard, I uncovered some beautiful spring ephemerals: Bleeding heart, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit. It made me happy to know that I was helping these plants thrive every time I pulled up a garlic mustard plant.

Five large trash bags later and four days of active pulling, and I feel like the problem is under control for the time being. My landlord helped me tackle a large portion of the area, which was nice and made the activity more fun. However, I will warn you: Every time you think you're finished, you'll see another plant. And another. And another. It's almost funny, but then it becomes rather maddening.

Still, I take walks often and keep my eyes peeled for garlic mustard. If I find a plant, I pull it up and add it to one of the trash bags that are stored in my wood shed.

Now that I know what it looks like, I notice it everywhere -- on the roadside, in yards. Time to organize a neighborhood garlic mustard patrol!

Do you monitor and control invasive plants on your property?

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