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Controlling garlic mustard

Garlic mustard is one of those non-native, invasive weeds that drives woodland owners crazy. It forms thick, dense colonies that crowd out other vegetation. During its first year of growth, garlic mustard is rather innocuous, blending in with the other green plants on the woodland floor. The second year, the stalks shoot up and produce small white flowers. If you crush the leaves, they actually smell like garlic.

Kathy Smith is the forestry program director for Ohio State University Extension. She says the best time to control this nasty plant is during its first year.

"It stays green 365 days out of the year. You could dig down through snow cover and it would still be green, existing underneath that snowpack. Actually I was in my own woods over the weekend and I could see some patches of it," says Smith. "If I’d had a backpack sprayer I could have sprayed it or pulled it. It’s always good if you’re going to pull it, to pull it when the soil is moist because it comes out a lot easier."

If you don’t notice the garlic mustard until you see it blooming in its second year, Smith says you need to either spray or pull it out before it goes to seed.

"When this plant goes to seed, it just becomes a dry, brown, tall-standing weed. It looks like a dead weed in July, or so. You need to pull it, you need to get it out of there, you need to put in a plastic bag so that you’re not leaving seed," she says. "If it’s already started to form seed, then you need to make certain that you remove it from the site."

Getting the upper hand on garlic mustard isn’t a one-time effort. The seeds are carried from place-to-place by wildlife, and can stay viable in the soil for up to five-years. The plant is shallow-rooted and fairly easy to pull, but it can sprout from any root fragments left in the ground.

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