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Winning the Privet Wars (FNPS News, Nov., 2003)
By Candyce Scherer

In the war against invasive exotic pest plants, Bill Fontenot is fond of saying that you have to pick your battles. But it's hard to know what battle to pick, especially when I see the dense, lush thicket of Chinese privets that have taken over the back of my property. The land back there floods whenever the river takes a notion to rise a few feet. Some of the bigger floods do give the privets a beating. But they never stay down for long and they seem to come back stronger than ever.

Out of sheer cussedness, I have been whacking away at the thicket during the last couple of winters. It's away to get some outdoor exercise in the good weather. I realized that I wasn't making much progress against the privet invasion. But I also started to notice that there were some native species that had not given up the good fight - river birch, water oak, streamside grasses like the spangle grass (Chasmanthium latifolium) even some shrubby St. John's wort were struggling to re-establish themselves. So I decided to focus my energy (and my cussedness) on seeking out these little native volunteers. When I found one; I would cut back as much of the privets in the immediate vicinity as I could manage, and then see what the natives-could do by themselves if they had a little more light, more room to grow, and a chance to do some self-seeding.

Well, I'm beginning to notice some improvement; The little oaks are shooting up instead of being swallowed up and shaded out. The tiny tufts of spangle grass that I "rescued" are now big clumps, and after last year's river flooding they have spread and are actually choking out some baby privets. All I can say is, Hallelujah.

So these are the battles l have chosen in the great privet wars:

1. Every chance I get, I cutback those pretty blooming branches so they don't go to seed. Birds love those berries and spread them everywhere.

2. I pull up the little privets and cut back the fluffy ones, to the best of my limited ability.

3. When I see native volunteers trying to come up near a privet patch, I get serious and cut the privets way back to give the natives more light and more room to grow.

We may never eliminate the privets from our woods and stream sides, but there is a chance that the native plants can claim back some of what is rightfully theirs, with a little help from their friends.  

For more drastic measures in the constant battle with invasive species, read Jim Russell's article entitled, "Stump Removal" in the April, 2006 (PDF Format) newsletter.

For more information about Invasive Exotic Plants check out the following sites:

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