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Beautiful and Destructive: Invasive Plants Archived Discussion Room

Fairfax County, Virginia

Beautiful and Destructive: Invasive Plants

Over the last 30 years, invasive plant species have slowly taken a firm foothold in our area. On Wednesday, May 29 at 2 p.m. join Natural Resource Specialist Justin Roberson with the Fairfax County Park Authority to talk about invasive plants, their damaging effects and how you can help protect yards, gardens and parkland from the infestation of these aggressively growing plants. Experts agree that non-native, invasive species are the second most serious threat to the quality of natural areas and their ability to support wildlife with only habitat loss being a more serious threat.

Justin Roberson : Hi, I'm Justin with the Fairfax County Park Authority and I'm here to answer your questions about non-native invasive plants.

Anonymous User : What plant's are we talking about?

Justin Roberson : We are talking about plants that are not native to North America, specifically the mid Atlantic region of the US. Many of these plants are from Asia or Europe and were introduced intentionally or accidentally. With no predators or pathogens to keep them in check, they outcompete our native species. This lowers the biodiversity and quality of our natural spaces. Fewer native plants means fewer native insects, birds and mammals and ultimately leads to a decline in the ecosystem services provided to us by our natural areas.

Plants such as English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, tree of heaven, autumn olive, Japanese stilt grass and garlic mustard are all invasive and wreck havoc on our natural areas.

Barbara Mitchell : Hello, My neighbor has bamboo growing in their yard right next to my garage. How can I keep this from growing around my garage and ruining the foundation? Is there anything that can be done legally? We do not have an HOA. Thank you

Justin Roberson : From a plant perspective you would need to dig down along the property line roughly 18 inches and pour a concrete barrier to prevent the roots and rhizomes from crossing on to your property. You could try hard plastic as well but concrete would be better. From a legal standpoint there are currently no laws in Virginia or Fairfax County addressing this specific issue. You have the option as a property owner to take your neighbor to small claims court if damage is occurring. I would consult with a lawyer on your legal options. I know that in Connecticut a law is in the process of being passed to address this specific issue:

Mary V. : What is the best way to get rid of the non-flowering strangling wisteria vines? There is an area of woods behind our house that was being choked by these vines. Last year I spent weeks digging up plants, pulling them out, cutting them down from trees, anything I could think of to get them out. I was unable to find any information on the internet about getting rid of them that was any easier. The problem is, there are still some out there, and my hands can't take the heavy work any more. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks for your advice!

Justin Roberson : Chinese and Japanese Wisteria vines are invasive and very difficult to remove. You can pull them by hand but on a mature plant the root system is typically very complex and deep. It is almost impossible to remove by hand. You will need to use an herbicide with the active ingredient glyphosate to kill the plant. This is commercially sold as Round Up but there are other options out there. This plant typically requires multiple treatments. It can also help to cut the vines as they emerge to try and force the plant to keep expending energy on new growth.

Jeanne : How can we strongly encourage commercial nurseries to stop selling non native invasives? At a minimum can we encourage them to label such plants correctly? Could there be any financial "incentives" to discourage sales of such plants? It seems contradictory and ludicrous that the county has to allocate funds to pay to remove these plants at the same time that businesses are reaping tax benefits for selling them.

Justin Roberson : I do agree that it is frustrating that these same invasive plants are sold commercially and allowed to be planted. At this time there is not legislation that prevents the sale of these plants beyond the state list of noxious weeds. This list currently only has a few agricultural pest plants and none of the typical invasive plants found in natural areas. For nurseries you need to vote with your wallet. If you ask for and purchase native plants they will be more inclined to sell them. If people continue to ask for and purchase invasive plants then the problem will persist. Education and outreach are key and the more people that know of the dangers of invasive plants the more likely it will be that nurseries will not sell them and sell a native alternative.

You can also write to your local, state or federal elected official to advocate for more comprehensive legislation that specifically deals with non-native invasive plants.

Janine : My backyard is overrun by English ivy and poison ivy. I have been ripping them out by hand. The other vines like Virginia Creeper and some sort of wild grape vine are pretty, but they seem to be too aggressive as well. Is there a place for these last two (are they natives?) If so, how would they be kept in check or contained in their spreading? Thanks.

Justin Roberson :

Poison Ivy, Virginia Creeper and Wild Grape are native species while English Ivy is a non native invasive. English Ivy is one of the easiest plants to remove by hand. It only flowers/fruits once it climbs up a tree. The best way to remove it is to cut it near ground level and then cut it again about a foot higher. Allow the portion that is on the tree to die and then gently remove it from the tree. You can then focus on pulling the plant out by the roots from the ground.

The native plants are good for local wildlife and should be preserved if possible. However, regular trimming can keep them out of areas that you do not want them. Ultimately it is your property and you can remove them if you like. You might need to remove some individuals to obtain the landscape that you desire.

Erica : Is there a online source (with color photographs) of invasive species current affecting Virginia gardens?

Justin Roberson : Hi Erica, There are several resources available online. The USDA maintains a website with tons of information on many different invasive species:

Another great source is the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health at the University of Georgia:

If you would like to help, you can go to and map the invasive species that you find. This is a great tool that allows land managers and researchers to follow the distribution of different invasive plants. It also allows for the early identification of a new invasive plant. This early identification can lead to a quick eradication preventing a large scale problem like we currently have with species like English ivy.

Marian : I have spent the last 6 weekends trying to eradicate english ivy from my yard. So far more than 150 hours into this work of simply pulling, digging and cutting. I am still pulling ivy that is interwoven in my zoysa lawn every morning for about two hours.... I am only half there any help you can provide on eliminating English Ivy other than this back breaking work? I am working on one half of my land this year, and next year part two.... Second: I was told that it is not a good idea to put English Ivy in my mulch pile, is this correct?

Justin Roberson : Marian, if you do not want to utilize an herbicide to kill the plant in place then you are doing everything you can. Manual removal is not easy and takes a major commitment to ensure success. If you kill the plant in place using glyphosate then it will be much easier to remove. Since the plant is an evergreen you can kill in the winter when your other plants are dormant and reduce the chance of harming a native plant.

Putting the ivy in the mulch pile while it has seeds present can be an issue. English ivy will only have seeds if it is growing vertically. If none of your ivy has seeds then you can let it decompose with your other yard waste. However it never hurts to err on the side of caution and bag it and put it out with the trash.

John : I have a large Autumn Olive my front yard, close to the corner of my house. Because of its quick growth and propensity to spread I have to constantly cut it back. Would you recommend removing it?

Justin Roberson : Hi John, Autumn Olive plants are very aggressive growers and your problem will persist unless you dig the plant out by the roots or you kill it with an herbicide. We use a tool known as a weed wrench to lever those plants out. But once the plant reaches a certain size (roughly 4 inches in diameter or greater) then it would require heavier equipment to remove. In those instances herbicide might work better for you. Cutting it and then immediately applying the herbicide to the stump typically works best.

Laura : Bamboo and invasive vines have taken hold of much of my and my neighbors' yard due to it growing on County property (Pimmit Run). The bamboo grows extraordinarily tall and falls into our yards destroying fencing and other plant life. The invasive vines provide a safe harbor for rodents and make it impossible to keep it out of our trees as it extends onto our property. Who can we contact to have the County land be cleared of these destructive plants?

Justin Roberson : Hi Laura, contacting the Park Authority with your specific concern would be best. This will ensure that the park manager is notified of the issue and it can be assessed and determined if action can be taken:

Anonymous User : What is the best way to get rid of poison ivy?

Justin Roberson : Poison Ivy is actually a native plant. It is a great food source for native birds. I would only recommend removing it if it is a safety risk or growing too aggressively in your yard. You can remove it either manually via hand tools or with herbicide. As I'm sure you're aware, it is the oils on the plant that cause the skin reaction in humans. Please exercise extreme care to protect yourself during the removal. A product such as tecnu can be used to remove the oils from your skin if you do come in contact with the plant.

Dave : What is the best way to remove or control Kudzu?

Justin Roberson : Kudzu is extremely difficult to remove. It is one of the worst invasive plants that we deal with. It forms very large tubers underground and has a complex root system. You have to use a stronger chemical known as garlon to kill it. The plant is in the bean or legume family and there are herbicides that specifically treat that family but they are not as effective as garlon on Kudzu. Alternatively it can be dug up using a backhoe but that can cause a lot of ground disturbance and damage. It would really depend on the specific situation and the degree of the infestation.

Joe S. : If there is a utility easment behind my property overgrown with several invasive species (Kudzu, Wisteria, English Ivy), who can I contact? Does the county maintain utility easments, or Dominon Va Power, or who controls easements?

Justin Roberson : If the easement is on county or park property then the easement holder is responsible for regular maintenance. This typically involves some sort of regular mowing (annually, every three years, etc) but not much more beyond that. Contacting the property owner would be the first step in determining who has the easement and what their management plan is for that area. It might be possible to have the easement holder and property owner work to remove the plants but nothing is guaranteed.

Tanya : I have wisteria (not the native kind) growing in several parts of my yard. I have tried digging it up, but it continues to come back. I do not want to use roundup. Any thoughts on how to get rid of it?

Justin Roberson : If herbicide is not an option then you will need to dig up all of the roots to remove the wisteria. This can be difficult as the root system is typically quite extensive and might be growing in difficult to reach places.

Sarah : What is the best way to remove bamboo?

Justin Roberson : The best way is to cut the shoots down to the ground and then treat the stumps with herbicide. This needs to be done over multiple growing seasons and can be very time consuming. If you dig and break up the roots it is possible to make the problem worse due to the way the plant can reproduce vegetatively.

Tracy : If I'm concerned about invasive species on parkland, is their anything that I can do to help prevent their spreading?

Justin Roberson : We encourage anyone that has a concern about invasive species on Fairfax County Park Authority property to get involved in our Invasive Management Area (IMA) program. This program allows concerned citizens to work in their local parks manually removing invasive plants. Tools, gloves, trash bags are provided and is a great way to earn community service hours. For more information please go here:

Work days are held almost every week and are advertised on the IMA calendar here:

Invasive species management is difficult but with help from our citizens we can make an impact and improve the ecological health of our parks.

Justin Roberson : Thank you for joining me today to discuss Invasive Plants. I'm sorry we could not answer every question. If you would like more information or have more questions please go to the natural resource management section of the park authority web page: