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Jeff Lowenfels: The invasion has arrived!

Jeff Lowenfels
Orange hawkweed, native to Europe, is an invasive species in Alaska. Anneli Salo / CC via Wikimedia

The invasives are not coming. They are here already and, unfortunately, they are everywhere. If you think dandelions are bad, just you wait. The invasive and noxious weeds I am writing about have government agencies plotting their demise. Take that, mere dandelions! These are real invasives.

Did I say “just you wait?” Because waiting is not acceptable. If you are a gardener, it is simply not an option. Instead, each and every single one of us has to act quickly to try and stem the tide of these unwanted plants. Hopefully it is not too late (as it is with dandelions). If we are not a lot more vigilant, we will be sorry in our roles as gardeners as well as Alaskans.

I know I recently pointed the reader toward the website maintained by the Committee on Noxious and Invasive Plants and the good folks at the Cooperative Extension Service (who should be remembered at funding time). Here you will find what you need to become familiar with what I consider to be Alaska's enemies. Go there. Bookmark the site and promise me you will spend some time on it.

If action is taken, Alaska may be able to avoid the worst of the economic as well as ecological impacts for which we will have to pay. Better to spend 10 minutes today familiarizing yourself with these plants so you can take action. Do not put this simple task off.

Action? Yes, such as the fourth annual Anchorage Weed Smackdown to be held on Saturday, Aug. 9, at Valley of the Moon Park (from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Once again, the Smackdown is targeting the invasive European bird cherry, aka “May Day” tree. Who knew they were invasive, right? 

More information about Weed Smackdowns and a registration link for this one can be found at weedwar.net. Kudos to Anchorage Cooperative Weed Management Area and Citizens Against Noxious Weeds Invading the North.

Of course, you can (and should) have your own smackdown, too. I bet every single reader of this column has "butter and eggs" growing on her property. This stuff will choke out annuals and perennials. It is all over the place and starting to set the flowers, which contain so many seeds.

And what about orange hawkweed? It is on highways all over Anchorage and that means cars are bringing it into yards.

That tall, sweet white clover lining the Parks Highway is a sad sight. How did that get there? And all manner of thistles are popping up ever more frequently as well. They suck up nutrients. And many of you do still have chokecherries, too. European bird cherries choke out riparian plains and kill habitat for salmon.

Why does any of this matter? In the Lower 48, there are places that maple trees will not grow anymore because mustard garlic has taken over. The maple syrup and sugar industry is not happy. Did you know that thistles put out similar allopathic chemicals as do other invasive weeds? This is why they are so successful.

I probably only need to mention kudzu for every reader to instantly understand how a plant can take over. Japanese knotweed grows almost as fast and it has been seen here. Yikes! Be concerned.

And, finally, all native species of wildlife need native species of plants to survive. When invasives replace natives, animal populations shift and often disappear.

Bottom line: learn your invasives and smack ‘em down.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar for the week of July 24-Aug. 6:

Workshop: Building a wattle fence. Wed. 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Alaska Botanical Garden. This workshop will be hands-on and all outdoors, so please make sure you dress properly for the weather. Also, please bring gloves with you.

Harvest: Don't save food because it looks good in the garden. Harvest food when it's ripe. And share what you don't need. Plant a row for the hungry!

Jeff Lowenfels is co-author of "Teaming With Microbes" and author of "Teaming With Nutrients." Contact him on his website at teamingwithmicrobes.com.