Westchester County has its own version of “Scary Movie” and it’s playing along the county’s roadways, parkways, streets and backyards. The culprits? Invasive vines that attack our area’s trees and shrubs – taking hold at the root and eventually strangling them.
Invasive vines that are particular to our area, and most prevalent, are the Asiatic bittersweet and porcelain berry vines, but in recent years, the “mile-a-minute” vine has become firmly established in Westchester, as well as a host of similar vines that are transforming the suburban landscape. Originally native to Asia and Europe, these plants arrived here with no native species or insects to restrain them, and they have proliferated ever since.
It started out simply enough: bittersweet's pretty foliage and colorful red and yellow berries were chosen by homeowners for garden borders and its branches were used to make flower arrangements. Other species, such as Burning Bush, Japanese Barberry, and English Ivy were — and continue to be — also used as ornamental plants for the garden. But it was only a matter of time for their seeds, carried by the wind and by birds, to take root elsewhere.
The Saw Mill and Bronx River Parkways are prime examples in our area of how destructive these vines are, blanketing vast swaths of the corridors in a macabre sight of greenery gone wild. The extent of the damage can easily be seen in the colder months as well, when the fall and winter exposes thick vise-like branches that have encircled and choked their host trees.
Efforts are being made at the state and local level to eradicate invasive vines at many locations throughout Westchester. The Bronx River Parkway Reservation Conservancy supports the Westchester County Parks Department in its vine cutting efforts and hosts several vine cutting events throughout the year. Executive Director Jim Sutton considers the work a top priority and volunteers are welcome. Training takes place pretty much on the job, and the effort goes from October to April, when the leaves are off the trees. Mr. Sutton calls their most important accomplishment the saving of ‘signature trees’ – the huge oaks, maples, and elms that are native to this region. “We started with those trees in mind and have saved a significant number of them,” he said. To learn more about the organization and how to get involved, visit www.vinecutter.com.
The Saw Mill River Coalition/Groundwork Hudson Valley also has been running programs to eliminate vines along the parkway. Last April, a workshop was held in which stakeholders along the Saw Mill River gathered to develop a long-term action plan to eliminate the plants that are destroying native habitat. According to Deputy Program Director Emily Eder, “The Coalition’s efforts are mostly focused on the Saw Mill River Parkway in three locations: Farragut Ave. in Hastings, Lawrence St. in Dobbs Ferry and Woodlands Lake in Irvington.” According to Ms. Eder, vine cutting is an ongoing process. Once a tree has been cleared, continuous efforts must be made to keep cutting back on a regular basis, as the roots are still alive and well and waiting to climb again. Only herbicides can kill the vine’s root system, but the Coalition, being an environmental group, prefers the more natural (cutting) alternative to toxic chemicals. The Coalition hosts “Free-a-Tree Vine Cutting” events – the next one being Sunday, November 20 — from 10am-1pm at the Farragut Avenue site. For a complete schedule of vine cutting events, information, and to volunteer, contact www.sawmillrivercoalition.org.
Westchester County Parks Department also runs a volunteer work projects to do ground maintenance along stone walls, drives and buildings as well as habitat management. On Saturday, November 5, the Parks Department will host a vine-cutting event from 1pm-3pm at the Marshlands Conservancy, Route 1, Rye, NY. For more information call 914-835-4466 or visit www.westchestergov.com.
Combat tips for the homeowner’s garden
• Pulling plants: make sure you pull all of the root material. Even then, germination of seeds will continue for several growing seasons.
• Make sure you dispose of all plant parts, including fruits, in sealed plastic bags to prevent re-seeding.
• Cut regularly over several growing seasons. Small shoots should be mowed weekly for a year or more. Large shoots require cutting to the ground at two-week intervals.
• Chemical solutions: Both glyphosate and triclopyr have been used to control Asiatic bittersweet. They may be sprayed at any time during the growing period, but preferably in late fall, when non-target species are dormant.
• Spray liberally; repeat spraying after 2 weeks is often required.