The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Waging War on Weedy Garlic Mustard

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

I'm convinced that how people view weeds is a good indicator of how they view life. The yardstick for waging war on weeds ranges between "I can hear the creeping Charlie growing" to "Weed? What weed?" or "I'm sure I have a recipe for lambs quarter salad here some where". Forget "what's your zodiac sign?" Next time try "How do you feel about dandelions?"

Some weeds are more than just a "plant out of place" and deserve everyone's scorn. Weeds can degrade natural areas and take over home landscapes to produce a one-plant show. Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, has been the scourge of forested areas for years.

Over the last couple years I have noticed garlic mustard is also infiltrating home landscapes. Garlic mustard is native to Europe where it hangs out in hedgerows, fencerows and open canopy woods. Here in the Midwest it loves the partial shade of our deciduous forests where it can literally blanket the ground.

Garlic mustard is visible now as a rosette (bouquet) of kidney bean shaped leaves. Leaves resemble violets, however, the leaves of garlic mustard have more pronounced veins, are more deeply scalloped, are darker green and except in late fall and winter have a distinct smell of garlic.

As a cool season biennial, garlic mustard seeds germinate in early spring to form the cluster of leaves. Leaves stay green well into December. The next season the mature plant sends up a 2.5 – 3 foot tall flower stalk with numerous small white flowers. It then sets seed and the original plant dies. One plant can produce almost 300 seeds. Just one year of seed production can produce a reoccurring nightmare of too much garlic.

Because of its ability to dominate relatively undisturbed forests it has lead to the decline of populations of native plants and the insects and animals that rely on them. Not only does garlic mustard shade out other plants, but it also produces chemicals that can keep other plants from growing around it. It's definitely a bully biennial.

Garlic mustard was once popular as a food plant especially since it is green in early spring and fall when most other plants are dozing. It is also reportedly high in Vitamin A and C. Presently it's shown up on the menus in fancy restaurants.

As with most exotic invasive weeds garlic mustard has no natural control here, even deer won't eat it. Research continues on finding a biological control.

So what can you do to halt the spread of garlic mustard?

  • Don't dig wildflowers from the wild. This is so wrong on many levels. Plus garlic mustard seeds and young plants can easily hitchhike on your illicit loot.
  • Always wash off any seed hitchhikers from hiking boots and shoes if you have been in an area infested with garlic mustard. An especially good habit if you frequent any natural areas.

Control garlic mustard in your garden or woodland now before it sets seed next spring.

  • Hand pull garlic mustard plants. Be sure to get the entire root or it may resprout. Remove plants from site especially in spring when they start to flower.
  • Garlic mustard may also be controlled in fall or early spring by herbicides such as glyphosate sold as Round up™. Keep spray off desirable plants. Be sure to read and follow all label directions.
  • In natural areas fire may be used as a management tool in the hands of experts.
  • An excellent article about garlic mustard http://tncweeds.ucdavis.edu/esadocs/documnts/allipet.pdf

If you can't beat them then eat them. Here are some garlic mustard recipes provided as a service by the Mid Atlantic Exotic Plant Pest Council http://www.ma-eppc.org/weedrecipes.html. Bon appetit!

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