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Thursday - April 29, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Japanese honeysuckle invading a backyard habitat in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

It has been a few weeks since we have been to our backyard (it is a place in need of desperate attention, but we have been re-landscaping the front yard first). When we went out today to start planning the re-landscaping of that part of our property we were stunned to find that our neighbor's Japanese Honeysuckle has not only taken over approximately 6ft of our shared fence, but that shoots of it are popping up in our yard (no lawn) for about 20 feet!! We are redoing 98% of our landscaping in order to have our yard qualify to be a certified backyard habitat. We are, except for a small vegetable garden which contains about half native plants and half non-natives, using all native grasses and herbaceous plants. This thing is eating our yard and will certainly disqualify us from certification if we cannot get a handle on it. Our neighbor is using it as a no-maintenance ground cover and cannot be persuaded to remove it. Our thoughts are to till under the infested area and along the fence plant some already fairly matured virginia creeper in the the hopes that it will be aggressive enough to fight back and take back that corner of our yard. That area of the yard is in full shade. What are your thoughts on how to fight this invasive vine? We had not planned on adding any plants back in that area, yet, but we fear that if we wait much longer the extent of the damage will be well beyond anything we can reasonably do.

ANSWER:

Start with this National Invasive Species Information Center page on Lonicera japonica. Next read the Plant Conservation Alliance Alien Plant Group LEAST WANTED Japanese Honeysuckle. An excerpt from the second reference:

"Growth and spread of Japanese honeysuckle is through vegetative (plant growth) and sexual (seed) means. It produces long vegetative runners that develop roots where stem and leaf junctions (nodes) come in contact with moist soil. Underground stems (rhizomes) help to establish and spread the plant locally. Long distance dispersal is by birds and other wildlife that readily consume the fruits and defecate the seeds at various distances from the parent plant." 

What they're saying is "if the right hand don't get you, the left hand will." Begin by cutting every stem coming out of the ground that you find, or pulling it out with some roots if you can. Get the vines off your fence; if it's a chainlink fence that's going to be that much harder, but you have to see the stems and know where they are. If there are any small bushes or trees with the vine already in them, get the vine out quickly, cutting off the stems before they have a chance to choke the plant. Our favorite technique in a situation like this, where you don't control the source, is to have a jar of the herbicide as recommended in the article from the PCA and a small disposable sponge paintbrush. As soon as you clip off a stem coming from the neighbor's side of the fence, paint both cut ends with the herbicide, quickly,  before the stem heals over to protect its roots. Painting each stem end means that if that stem has rooted in your side of the fence, the herbicide could still get to it. This is not a quick fix-you may be fighting that vine for a long time. 

The Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper) while fairly pushy, will not necessarily  be aggressive enough to crowd out the honeysuckle, but it's good to have it there. Again, no spraying of the herbicide, as that will knock off the Virginia Creeper, too. 

Moral: Don't turn your back for a minute, or the Alien Invader will creep up on you!

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