Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Our Garlic Mustard Challenge!

From the beginning of our work at the Newaygo Invasive Plants Project, we have always made frequent mention of and expressed broad support for the Garlic Mustard Challenge sponsored by the Stewardship Network. That's for several reasons. Not only does it help us track the work being done here in Newaygo County, it supports the Stewardship Network and it was after all their help along with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan and the Fremont Area Community Foundation that really got us started with NIPP.

But we have our own garlic mustard challenge here in the Newaygo County area. To me, it represents one of the first big tests of our resolve: will we make a lasting & meaningful commitment to the problem of invasive plants? (At this point, I should invoke full disclosure about this post: it's less about garlic mustard and more about NIPP, its past, present and future. )

Garlic mustard was 'first up' on our list of invasive plants since when we first heard about it (mid-2008), we had not seen it anywhere locally and we could find no reported occurrences of it in any of the databases we knew of. The Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) had no data points whatsoever and we pinned the first report of garlic mustard on their interactive map back in 2009. Eventually, we came to believe, based on our experiences here in dealing with the plant, that garlic mustard had actually been present in our area for much longer than we first thought.

At this point, it seems like a good time to reflect on our progress in dealing with garlic mustard and our vision of the future of NIPP. Regarding our garlic mustard challenge, I see the following:

  • Garlic mustard is STILL at the low end of the invasion curve, at least when considering Newaygo County as a whole. (See our NIPP previous blog update for a graphic illustration of the invasion curve). This means the costs, the time, the materials and the manpower needed to remove it and slow its spread are all much lower. It also means the damage is less widespread at this point. 
  • Some locations, such as the Anderson Flats area in Garfield Township and Croton Township (and others to be sure!) are higher up on the invasion curve. Locations like these are quickly getting infested to the point where containment of garlic mustard is the most realistic goal. In other words, eradication is seeming less and less likely in these spots.
  • Public awareness of garlic mustard as an invasive plant problem is much higher than before. The same is true for invasives generally and the specific invasives we have been talking about in our presentations. We are seeing much more interest and support for dealing with invasive plants. There has even been really great cooperation from organizations, such as the City of Newaygo, the Michigan Agricultural Commodities, the Newaygo County Parks Department, the Bills Lake Association, and some of the local townships.
  • The Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI) has come in as a valuable partner, thanks largely to Sarah Pregitzer's work with them and the classroom educators and students at Grant and Newaygo schools and the NC RESA AgSci class in Fremont. All of these groups are involved in removing invasives (though not all of them are working on garlic mustard specifically).
So that's a little of our history and our progress. What about our future? To consider that, we have to look not only at garlic mustard but at what NIPP has been about and what it can and should be in the future. We started the Newaygo Invasive Plants Project as a way to educate the public about invasive plants and to facilitate action. In essence we saw ourselves the 'spark that lit the fire,' the fire of community action. 

Our efforts have been successful to the extent that we see the potential for this whole effort to move beyond the project stage and transform into a sustainable, ongoing, community effort. In line with that hopeful vision, I want to mention a couple of developments that you might not be aware of. 

When we began the Newaygo Invasive Plants Project, we not only put garlic mustard on the MISIN reporting map for the first time, our efforts led to Newaygo County becoming a part of the West Michigan Cluster of the Stewardship Network. We are now 'on the map.'

This has been beneficial to Newaygo County in many ways but maybe most importantly in that our county is included in the formation of a new 'cooperative weed management area,' an entity that will focus on coordinating efforts and bringing in funding and other tangible support to the problem of invasive plants in Newaygo County. This could come into effect within the next six months to a year!

Finally, NIPP has enjoyed the generous support of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan for the past four years but the time has come for our project to either continue as a community based effort, one that is able to last and that will firmly established with local organizational support.  To do that, we need find fiduciary support (a nonprofit organization that can qualify for grant funding).  And just as importantly, along with that we will need some guidance from interested stakeholders here in Newaygo County. 

We think we have a potential for the fiduciary support. We have had the ongoing support of the Fremont Area Community Foundation and we believe they will continue to show support for dealing with invasive plants in our area. And we will continue to be part of the West Michigan Cluster, bringing more stewardship information and training to Newaygo County in the future. As mentioned already, that will also assure us a place in the cooperative weed management area that is about to be established.

We will be needing help from YOU -- those of you who we have been in touch with and working with here in our area. We are not looking to form a nonprofit of our own or to solicit donations. We ARE looking for people who would be willing to become part of a steering group that can guide our efforts through information sharing, advice and participation in the whole process of defining what our 'project' will continue to look like.

It's 'our' garlic mustard challenge, not 'the' garlic mustard challenge. The challenge is to mobilize our community into action and to sustain that effort over time. 

We would like to hear from any of you who would be willing to join our efforts in this way, to become part of a group that will help define the future for our area, to define the future of NIPP. 

Please get in touch with us soon to help with that challenge. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Keeping the Faith: Winning the War on Invasives One Day At A Time

Saturday, May 12 Garlic Mustard Pull at Devil's Hole, starting at 9 a.m.

Yesterday's pull at Devil's Hole was a big success: 27 bags pulled! The work continues though with more stands to remove at this site. As always, a great time was had by all and it was a very productive afternoon. The fun continues tomorrow and this is a site well worth preserving.

Reason to Believe

Choosing to take up the battle against invasive plants requires a leap of faith. You have to step up to the problem with the audacious belief that you really can make a difference. It can be hard at times, not just taking on the work and seeing it through, but you can lose sight of why you should keep trying. Holding on to that faith that got you started, however, can amount to simply stopping for a moment and looking around you. Just look at the woods around you. Look at this woods at Devil's Hole and the natural beauty of the woodland plants, some of them quite rare.

There: your reason to believe.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Garlic Mustard in Newaygo County - Update

Garlic mustard pull at Devil's Hole (take Spruce Ave. north from M-82) today at 4:30 p.m. -- Come join us!! 

The Low End of the Curve

When you look into the subject of invasive plants, one of the first concepts you encounter is the so-called 'curve of invasion. The invasion curve graphically shows how these plants become nearly impossible to eradicate before we are even close to ready to react to them. It is based on the idea that invasives spread so fast that they outpace the public awareness and understanding of them as a problem. This dilemma is exactly what motivated us to start the Newaygo Invasive Plants Project.

The first documented presence of garlic mustard in Newaygo County that we were aware of was in 2009. I pinned the first data point entry for Newaygo County on the MISIN research map and very recently I have told people of it when we have done presentations to groups about invasives. After more experience with the problem, I now believe it has been here much longer than we originally thought and was here in the county long before our first sighting, possibly by some several years.

As of today, we now know garlic mustard to be widely spread throughout most of the county. It is:

  • Along Maple Island Road north of Hesperia.
  • In the Hungerford Recreation Area in the northeast sector. 
  • Spread throughout much of the Croton-Hardy area.
  • In the Riverside and Henning Parks in Newaygo.
  • Along Croton Road near Pine Ave.
  • In the pedestrian walkway park on the west side of Fremont and at various residential parcels
  • Throughout the Bill's Lake area.
  • On parcels in Grant Township.
  • At the Anderson Flats area west of Newaygo
  • Throughout much of the Devil's Hole river flats east of Newaygo.
  • Located along Baldwin Ave. near 72nd Street in Garfield Township.
No doubt, garlic mustard is located in many places we have not heard of yet. What does this tell us about the current state of the problem? 'Widespread' is of course the short answer but I would say we are still on the low end of the invasion curve. This is not a small distinction at all.
Right now, garlic mustard is still a manageable problem, especially if considered from the perspective of its component parts -- the specific 'outbreak' locations around the county.

Making a Difference

The community has at least three notable accomplishments to celebrate. First, there's the Riverside Park in Newaygo. The April 21 Garlic Mustard Pull scoured it clean of second year plants. Second, the Bill's Lake area has shown rapid improvement, thanks to some very diligent, ongoing efforts by lake area residents and a recent organized pull that centered around the Camp Trotter location. Then there's the Hungerford Recreation Area, a beautiful camping/horse riding site in the Manistee National Forest. Thanks to US Forest Service work that Pat Ruta-McGhan has led, the Hungerford Recreation Area showed only small, scattered stands of garlic mustard when NIPP went there to help do another round of pulling in April. Of course, with all of these examples, there's more work ahead. Garlic mustard persists wherever it gets started. The seed bank stays viable for years, the seedlings are too numerous and small to eliminate completely in any single attempt at eradication, and outliers evade detection even when large groups have scoured known sites and surrounding areas.

But there's another side to these success stories, one that isn't immediately obvious to everyone but IS worth everyone knowing about. Wherever we have gone to work on garlic mustard to scout it out, to remove it, to inform people about it, we have seen a tremendous response. Neighbors start looking for it on their property. They go out together and scout it out and remove it. Experienced gardeners, landscapers and various outdoor enthusiasts tell us they never knew about the impact of invasives all around them. Then they go out and get busy on the problem. They pull garlic mustard, they report it, and they tell others about it.  

This kind of response generates the momentum needed to overtake what at first might seem like an overwhelming problem. Many well informed professionals and experts on environmental matters have pointed out that nature is not something we can actually control or manage, not in any real sense. For some, this idea might be a rationale for inaction, for giving up, just ignoring the problem because after all nature is just that: a force beyond our reach. But our experience has shown differently. We cannot totally eliminate any invasive plant. We cannot erect an imaginary wall that keeps out every noxious weed. We can, however, be clear about our values and what we want to protect. We can make a difference.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Native Plant Sales Nearby You

Newaygo Conservation District Native Plant Sale & Workshop

The Newaygo Conservation District is is hosting it's Annual Native Plant Sale on June 8, 2012 at the Newaygo Conservation District Office, 940 W. Rex Street, Fremont, Michigan.  (Native plants are plants that are native to Michigan and have adapted to Michigan’s soils and climate.)
Native Plant Order deadline for orders:  May 25, 2012 – a variety of plants will be available for purchase on pickup day, including some not on the order form.
Also on June 8, the pick up day for the plant sale, the District will also offer a FREE 2 hour workshop,,  provided by Designs By Nature, LLC.  This workshop start at 4:00 p.m. and will provide information on:  garden designs, site selection, site preparation, plant selection, installation and maintenance.
See the Newaygo Conservation District web page (link above to Native Plant Sale) or call 924-2420, xt 5 for more information.

Kent Conservation District Native Plant Sale & Workshop

Kent Conservation District is having their annual Native Plant Sale and deadline for orders is Saturday, May 5.  (Plant pick-up date is Saturday, May 12 from 8:00 to 1:00). KCD is hosting a Gardening with Native Michigan Plants workshop taught by Vern Stephens on May 9 from 6-8 PM.  See attached flyers for more information and order form.

To register for the native plant workshop with the KCD, call or e-mail them at:

Phone: 616-942-4111, xt 100

Calvin College to Host Native Plant Sale

On Saturday, May 5 from 10:00 a.m until noon, Calvin College will be hosting their seventh annual native plant sale. The sale takes place at the BIC West Entrance. For more information and a price list go to:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants

Everyone Has a Favorite

Japanese Knotweed Along the Pere Marquette
I have sometimes joked that everyone has their own favorite invasive plant. After all, you can hardly go anywhere without seeing horticultural plantings of invasive plants. Even 'in the wild,' invasive plants have a way of presenting with their own charm. They are often attractive to us in many ways. Dame's Rocket is colorful and I have heard many defend it as a natural beauty. Even Autumn Olive, an invasive I find easy to hate, has an intoxicatingly sweet smell that fills the air when it blossoms. Japanese Knotweed is stunningly beautiful when the summer blossoms crest the tops of these large plants in full maturity. Japanese Barberry presents colorful, interesting shapes to set off a landscaped yard. But all of these plants have a common personality to them: they are invasive and therefore destructive.

Consider these common characteristics that are said to define plants as invasive:
  • Produce large numbers of new plants each season. 
  • Tolerate many soil types and weather conditions. 
  • Spread easily and efficiently, usually by wind, water, or animals. 
  • Grow rapidly, allowing them to displace slower growing plants. 
  • Spread rampantly when they are free of the natural checks and balances found in their native range.
All of these statement come from observation and scientific query. What needs to be added to the list, perhaps at the top, is something that's more anthropomorphic: 
  • Expert at getting people to do their bidding
Michael Poulan, in The Botany of Desire, often uses anthropomorphic terms as he brilliantly describes the reciprocal, mutually sustaining relationships between domestic plants and humans. This thought process needs to be applied to the problem of invasive plants. We have to ask ourselves if we are part of the problem, the solution, or both. Then we have to consider our alternatives. What is it we can do? Some of the most readily available choices are:
  • Learn to identify locally important invasive plants.
  • Remove invasive plants on your property or prevent their spread.
  • Only use non-invasive plants when landscaping your property.
  • If your property borders a natural area, consider using only native plants in your landscape.
  • Use systemic herbicides carefully as a last resort to remove invasive plants.
  • Make others in your neighborhood aware of invasive plants.
  • Find non-invasive or native alternatives for invasive landscape plants.

In terms of non-invasive or native, listed below are some businesses in West Michigan that are listed as carrying natives. Please note though: this list is not verified and it is not exhaustive. You might be able to find other sources nearby that are just as good or better. 

Wildtype Native Plant Nursery
900 North Every Road, Mason, MI
(517) 244-1140 
Michigan Wildflower Farm
11770 Cutler Road, Portland, MI
(517) 647-6010 
Hidden Savanna Nursery
North Van Kal Street, Kalamazoo, MI
(269) 352-3876 

Newhouse Nursery
33 126th Avenue, Wayland, MI
(269) 792-4300 
Bennett & Daughters Daylily Nursery
8877 Sunfield Hwy, Portland, MI
(517) 647-6315 
Engel's Nursery
2080 64th Street, Fennville, MI
(269) 543-4123 
1 review
Rosebay Nursery
6394 Old Allegan Road, Saugatuck, MI
(269) 857-4852 
Mulder's Landscape Supplies, Inc.
3333 Ravine Road, Kalamazoo Township, MI
(269) 345-6900 
3 reviews
Country Harvest Greenhouse
6869 Whitneyville Avenue Southeast, Alto, MI
(616) 868-6676 
4321 28th St SE, Kentwood, MI
(616) 942-5321 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bill's Lake Residents and NIPPER Pull Together!

Garlic Mustard Loses Ground

The work at Camp Trotter & surrounding properties at Bill's Lake has made a big difference already. 

Tuesday's pulling event at the camp had a great turnout and looking back at it now you really have to search for garlic mustard if you want to see it, whereas before, it lined the roadside and the camp fields. The noxious plant had been something like a rowdy crowd, jeering at you from the shoulder of the road and the sides of the woodlots, but it's now sulking in the shadows, hoping we forget about it. 

Yesterday afternoon, we pulled out ten bags of garlic mustard, mostly from around the area surrounding the camp, but that accomplishment isn't even half of the story here. Before we even arrived, several residents had scoured 86th Street and many of the properties around it for garlic mustard. Ed Waits of the Bill's Lake Association sounded the call to action prior to our NIPP event and produced impressive results, making our work Tuesday much easier and allowing us to focus on some of the more widely scattered plants, the outliers in the area. 

These small stands and isolated plants strewn about all over the place act much like the advance units of an army, establishing footholds & preparing the way for the larger invading horde. Although removal of them seems less fulfilling to the volunteers who cannot fill their bags as quickly or boast of large numbers or high poundages of garlic mustard 'harvest,' this kind of work goes a long way towards containment (restricting the invasive to a smaller area).

Tuesday's NIPPER event started out looking like a party where we had sent out invitations for the wrong date or place, or maybe both. This was due primarily to the  admirable job done by the Bill's Lake residents/volunteers pulling garlic mustard along 86th Street, and some spraying done around Camp Trotter by NIPP during March.  Still, there proved to be plenty of 'fun' for everyone. The volunteers that day not only cleaned the area of the outlying invasives but removed sizable patches of garlic mustard along El Camino Drive. We also learned of some patches of garlic mustard previously unknown to us, thanks to Bill's Lake residents, Sue McClain and Pam Flint, who spent time that afternoon scouting the area for more sites with garlic mustard. Meanwhile, back at the pulling site, Kristi Snarski and Ed Waits got into the thick of things with us, helping to pull second year plants.

Like every success story in this business of fighting invasives, this one comes with a caveat, a warning lest we get complacent. We know that garlic mustard is still lurking out there. There's bound to be some isolated plants we missed. A number of volunteers reported seeing large swaths of small plants that turned out to be the first year seedlings of garlic mustard. These seedling sites, along with the persistent bank of garlic mustard seeds that inevitably get established around garlic mustard sites, assure that we are going to see more of this plant around Bill's Lake in the future. 

But it gets worse: invasives know no boundaries and they are masters at getting us to help their insidious spread in all kinds of ways. As we left Bill's Lake, we went out 92nd Street, partly so we could attack some isolated 'sprays' of garlic mustard that were already spotted down near the Deer Point area. Continuing out of the area, we went by the corner of 80th Street and Pear Avenue. For about 100 feet down 80th Street, beginning at the corner and into what appears to be Manistee National Forest land, garlic mustard is making its way into the woods along that lane. Roadside grading and snowplowing act as mechanical spreaders of garlic mustard, a sad but inevitable fact. There was, however, signs of another means of human assistance to garlic mustard's spread: casual dumping of yard waste along the shoulder of  80th Street. Yard waste disposal like this is a key mechanism by which invasives are spread. Unlike snowplowing and road grading, this is activity that does not have to happen this way. It is preventable.

If we care about the natural landscape, the beauty of the woods and fields around us, then we need to think about invasives and about how they are like a contagion. For our own benefit, for our neighbors, for the public at large, for the environment itself, garlic mustard locations need to be thought of as something like 'quarantine zones,' places where we take steps to isolate and eradicate it. We need to prevent it from traveling in and out of the area. We need to think of and stop doing (wherever possible) the things we are doing to assist it. Yard waste can normally be composted on site. If garlic mustard is found, it can be bagged and landfilled. If it is not found but known in to be in the area, then covering the compost with a tarp should prevent seedlings from sprouting and escaping to the surrounding environment. Dumping on vacant lots and public land will only be self-defeating and harmful. At the very least, wherever you dump your yard waste, monitor it frequently for signs of invasives, especially since garlic mustard is known to be nearby.

Next Garlic Mustard Pull Dates:

Our next date to pull is this coming Saturday, April 24 at the Anderson Flats, beginning at 9 a.m. Additional dates will be scheduled, including at least one date for a new location that's in our sights now: the Devil's Hole river flats, located at the end of Spruce Avenue on the south side of the Muskegon River.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Garlic Mustard At Newaygo Riverside Park a Big Success!

Attacking the invaders: the Newaygo Invasive Plants Project Early Response
team  (NIPPER) spreads out and overwhelms the noxious interlopers.
(Click on image to enlarge.)
Thank you, each and everyone, who was able to come to the pull at the Riverside Park. We had a terrific turn out and completely cleared the site of second year plants. Everyone worked hard and altogether we pulled out twenty-four bags of garlic mustard

This was no small feat. Our main target area was only about 1/4 to 1/2 acre in size, but this was due in part to some successful, early springtime spraying the cut the job at least in half for this season. Still, this area required a lot of bending, twisting, climbing & scrambling around in a woodlot with uneven ground, plenty of dead & down brush and of course other invasives, like autumn olive and invasive honeysuckle to fight through, not to mention the some small patches of stinging nettles. 

This was an important, early victory in the battle against garlic mustard's encroachment into our area. The pull event went on for three hours and volunteers were supported and rewarded with just a beautiful morning to work along the riverside. Nesting ospreys provided an aerial show, trafficking back and forth across the park and the river's edge. 

Just the day before, our project had some really helpful publicity by way of a short feature report on WOODTV. Steve Kelso from Channel 8 came out and did an interview with us at the Riverside Park on Friday, April 20, the day before our pull. It broadcast on the 5:30 p.m. segment of WOODTV News. See "Garlic Mustard Kills Native Plants" for the video report. Thank you, Steve Kelso.

A friend of ours called to say the report aired while she was away from the television working in another room, and she heard a familiar voice. Upon seeing us on the screen, she said she was 'shocked and awed' to see on the news. All I could say to that was, "Well, that's the effect we were going for: shock and awe." And it happened because of all of you. The garlic mustard in Newaygo County got some 'shock and awe."

Again, THANK YOU EVERYONE for coming and leading the charge!

Next Garlic Mustard Pull Dates:

4/24/2012  (Tuesday) Camp Trotter at 4:30 p.m., meet at the entrance gate to Camp Trotter out at Bill's Lake.

4/28/2012 (Saturday) Anderson Flats at 9:00 a.m., meet at the public access parking lot at Anderson Flats.