by Bryon Walters

Phragmites australis, Common or Giant Reed, can be a very problematic invasive in wetlands and wet prairies. If left unchecked, it can form large monoculture, impenetrable jungles 6-10’ high. Usually nothing else will grow under the dense canopy. Large infestations can be controlled with high pressure, high volume, non selective herbicides, leaving the area brown and dead.

Small infestations should be dealt with as soon as possible. Here is a seep area that has about 24 stems.

September is a great time to deal with the stalks. You want to treat it before the large seed heads turn brown, ripening to the point of seed falling off. Early in the Fall, the seed heads may be young, green and unripe.

The only effective herbicides for treating Phrag are Glyphosate and Imazapyr. Both are non selective and will kill everything it drips on.

The high or good quality areas, the best approach to rid the Phrag and save the surrounding vegetation is a surgical approach.

First, starting in the back of a patch of Phrag, use hand pruners to cut the stalk off about knee or waist high. The lower the better, but personal comfort may dictate the height. Cast the long stalk you just cut with the seed head, off to the side laying it somewhat flat. If you just drop it where you cut it, it will remain upright and you will be confused and grab that stalk again thinking it needs to be cut. Use sharp pruners, I use Felco #2’s, to make a clean cut. You need to see the hollow hole in the remaining, standing stalk you just cut. If it is smashed closed, cut again just below your first cut. It should look like this.

Next, have a hand held bottle sprayer that is filled with 100% Glyphosate and a little blue dye. Slowly spray a straight stream into the hollow stem. It will hold various amounts of herbicide. You may want to practice spraying water into a straw before hand. The Phrag hole will be half the size of a straw hole. It takes a little practice and patience. When I cut the stalk I leave a small portion of a leaf sheath to use as a backboard when spraying into the hollow stem. It can stop the occasional overspray from running a stream of Glyphosate onto the ground or other vegetation. Sometimes Reed Canary Grass is all around and you don’t mind herbicide dripping on that. After getting in a rhythm, I may cut 3-5 stems in a group and then spray them. Don’t do more than that at one time because you may not find the stems. Get good with one’s and two’s before moving to larger groups.

Work moving backwards away from the stalk(s) you just treated. You do not want to step on, bending or breaking the stem you just treated. I can treat about 100 stems in an hour. I rarely cut more than that but on occasion I’ve had to.

An advisable follow up option would be to gather up the cut stems that are laying everywhere and put them on a pile. Working from the pile, I cut off all the seed heads and put them in a sack to carry off site. Even young green unripe seed heads could potentially ripen and reseed the area. It doesn’t take too long to do this. You’re reassurances are worth the little extra efforts.

I have successfully eradicated and eliminated Phragmites entirely from areas using this surgical approach. I’ve treated it with wonderful plants like Bog Goldenrod, Grass-of-Parnassus and Gentians growing right underneath the Phragmites. My follow up visits have shown zero damage to the native plants. Give it a try and you’ll be a doctor in no time.

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Registration open for September 15 virtual GRN sponsored workshop

Here is the Event Brite registration for this free workshop:


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Does over-seeding prairie plantings work?

By Bill Kleiman, Project Director of Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy

Have you planted seed into an already established prairie planting, trying to increase floral diversity?  You had that warm hopeful feeling. Those tiny seeds in your hand soon to be germinating.  New flowers blooming in your restoration.

Did what you plant ever show up?  Most of us have examples of where the seed planted did eventually produce new populations, but more often we shrug when asked.

Way back in 2009 I had this study question: What is the best way to over-seed an already established prairie planting to increase its diversity?  Below is the random block we set up with four treatments and  a control.  I explain the block below.

This was in an established prairie, with reasonable forb diversity, rather thick in warm season grasses.  Look at the top row of cells.  In cell A1 we worked up the prairie sod with a disc, then raked it with a harrow, and then seeded a rich and abundant mix of seed, well over 50 species at a heavy pounds per acre.  Would this cell turn out the best?

In A2 we only added seed.

In A3 we harrowed, seeded, and then in mid-summer we sprayed with Poast grass herbicide.   Would the grass herbicide set back the Indian grass and big bluestem and make space for our seed to grow?

A4 was the control with no seed added.

A5 we harrowed and seeded.

The B row and C row are the same setup but not in same order.  This is called a Random Block study.

Below photo looks down at the block when we set it up.  It was burned before we did anything.  You can see the harrowed and disced cells.

Below is the disc in one of the cells.  We worked up the prairie sod several inches deep.


Ten years later what do you think we see when we walk along this experimental block?

All the cells look the same to me.  Elizabeth says she saw some subtle differences.

The experiment is ongoing.  We are looking for a grad student to adopt this experiment and collect the vegetation data.

My takeaways on adding seed to established plantings is this:

It takes a long time for the seed planted to produce a noticeable sized plant.  There are exceptions where plants show up in just a handful of years after addition, but you should expect a decade, or two decades, to get the establishment you want.

Yes, you should add seed to those prairie plantings.   Many species you want to see in your restorations will not blow in, nor be dropped in by birds flying over, or carried in the fur of rabbits or deer or mice.  It will be you planting the seed.

Patience is a prairie word.

Below are the experimenters in 2009:  Susan Kleiman, 9 year old Leah K, and myself, Bill K.    I coaxed Leah with promises of fun science.  She is now 20 years old majoring in plant ecology.

We did three of these same blocks.  More details here: https://www.nachusagrasslands.org/links–resources.html

If you want to see the seed list we planted look to planting 91 and 92 here: https://www.nachusagrasslands.org/planting-histories-in-chronological-order.html


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Save the Date! Growing Through Change: Sourcing Climate-Resilient Seed in Ecological Restoration

Join us on September 15, 2020 for a virtual conversation about the importance of sourcing seed for ecological restoration with climate resilience in mind.

All are welcome to join this virtual version of the Grassland Restoration Network annual meeting

Short presentations by researchers in restoration ecology and regional seed producers will be followed by breakout sessions for discussions on strategies and steps for moving forward.

Registration opens August 31, 2020! You will receive a follow-up email when the registration link goes live.


Presentations by:

Anna Bucharova at the Institute of Landscape Ecology, Münster, Germany. Anna’s work is focused on challenges in using seeds for ecological restoration under changing environments and the rapid evolution of climate change.

Julie Etterson at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Julie studies how native plant species respond to human impacts on the environment, such as climate change. She is also the principal scientist behind Project Baseline, a research seed bank that studies the evolution of wild plant populations over time and space.

Jennifer Ogle, the coordinator of the Arkansas Native Seed Program. Jennifer is working hard to provide locally sourced native seed for large-scale habitat enhancement, habitat restoration and revegetation projects in Arkansas.

There will also be lightning talks from regional native seed producers including Cardno, Inc. and The Prairie State Nursery, as well as from representatives of Forest Preserve and Conservation Districts and NGOs on their seed sourcing strategies and protocols used for their restoration projects.

Would you like to share your seed sourcing policy and experiences in a lightning talk?

We invite workshop participants to engage with each other by presenting a very brief talk regarding their seed sourcing policy and experience.

We will have two focal topics: “Seed Sourcing—What’s YOUR Policy?” and “Seed Sourcing Strategies—On the Ground Implementation.” If you are interested, please email Pati Vitt at pvitt@LCFPD.org by September 5.

Join us on September 15, 2020, 9 am-12:30 pm (CDT) as we discuss how seed sourcing may provide the foundation for climate-resilient restorations in what we hope will be the first of many conversations.

One anticipated outcome of this workshop will be the formation of a working group to continue studying and developing best practices for sourcing seed now and into the future.

Organizers include:

Pati Vitt, Lake County Forest Preserve District

Sponsored in part by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund.

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Rapid Assessment Monitoring, a video

By:  Julianne Mason, Restoration Program Coordinator, Forest Preserve District of Will County

Stewards are busy people.  Fire work, weed work, seed harvesting, brush thinning. How can you also find time to assess how your restorations are coming along?

Watch our video and see how a rapid assessment can be done.

The video link is https://www.nachusagrasslands.org/monitoring.html

At the same link are the two templates we mention.

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Sweet clover control

By Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands, TNC

In Nebraska, Chris Helzer of TNC, does no or little work against sweet clover.  Perhaps Nebraska is  dry enough that yellow and white sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis and M alba) are there but not overwhelming.  In rain soaked Illinois we find prairie plantings can look like we are raising sweetclover hay.

We sometimes spot spray sweetclover with a pack.  In ruderal areas we sometimes use a tractor sprayer.

We like weed spading sweet clover as the spade is light weight, simple, and effective.  We loosen the soil next to the clover and pluck it out, rather than tug until our backs hurt. I have written about these weed spades previously on this blog.

You can see we can grow some huge sweet clover plants.

Sweet clover is a biennial so if you mow it very short, on year two, when it is in full flower the plants typically do not re-sprout.  On some rocky soils it is hard to mow the yellow clover short enough to not have it re-sprout.

We use rotary mowers.  The batwing mower tends to mow short enough to pick up and cut the plants knocked down by the tractor tires.

The advantage of a sickle mower is that the cutter is off to the side.  Below, Austin Webb of Byron Forest Preserve is showing me their mower used for sweetclover patches.  They are relatively simple, quiet as the tractor can be run at low throttle, and they are nimble to maneuver. After two seasons with this mower they are pleased.

Below, the flail mower is another way to mow weeds and lanes. This photo is from a manufacturer’s website.  Flail mowers rotate the blade not horizontal to the ground but in the other dimension, like a brush mower head rotates, or a roto-tiller spins.

Below is a photo submitted by Joe Blastick of South Dakota TNC.  They call this one Mowasaurus.  This is a silage chopper.  It is designed to cut a crop like hay with its flail mower components, then auger to its built in chopper, and then its blower sends the product into a wagon trailing behind.  Here they use it to mow a fire break and then blow the product into the wind off the fire break.

I tried one of these in our Illinois 5 foot high prairie and it kept jamming the chopper with all that prairie.  You want the wind to be modest or away from you.  It does not like lots of rocks.


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A simple experiment on birdsfoot trefoil

by Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands, TNC

I often carry in my truck a spray bottle of herbicide that is 20% garlon 4 in mineral oil, a basal bark herbicide.  I use this on various brush I see during the summer.  Last year, while cruising for weeds,  I found a few dozen herbaceous invasive plants, birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).  Ordinarily I would spray them with a water based foliar herbicide, perhaps Garlon 3A or Crossbow.  But I did not have those with me.  I just had the basal bark mix.

I know if I sprayed the foliage of the plant with the basal bark mix it would kill it.  But that would be an expensive treatment.  But, what if I just sprayed a small spot, an inch or two wide, at the base of these big sprawling plants?  Would that kill them or just brown them out and leave the root alive?  How would I know if the plant roots died?

I came up with a simple experiment.

Below is my sprayer with basal bark mix and a Lotus plant flagged with blue tape.

Below is a big Lotus plant which I have just sprayed a small circle in the middle of the plant where the stems go to earth.    A complass plant leaf is at bottom.

Below is another Lotus a few days after spraying basal bark in the center.  In this specimen I gathered the stems up to find that center and then applied a small amount of basal bark mix close to the earth.  You can see the plant wilted.  Is it dead?  Note the aluminum tag I applied to a twisted end of wire that that is about 15 inches high.   How will I know I killed the root?  When I return a year later, find this tag, and find no living Lotus there.  The tag is prairie fire proof.

Below is one dead Lotus the next summer.  Therefore, the basal bark mix killed the root.

I tagged about 40 Lotus plants this way but since Covid cancelled our fire season I could only find 10 marked plants in all that un-burned foliage.  But ten out of ten Lotus, birdsfoot trefoil, were dead.

Lessons learned:

These casual small scale experiments are fun to do.  They give me comfort knowing my techniques are working.  They are not large scale enough to publish in a journal, but these experiments help me make a pitch to University researchers to do similar studies at scale with a control.

I should have used taller wires so I could find them all.  I only found one in four tags.

Follow up questions I have:

It is subtle, but I think I see a few inches of sparse vegetation around where the Lotus was.  Is that the Garlon 4 vaporizing and killing plants nearby?  Or had the competition of the large Lotus plants thinned nearby plants?  If I had burned the site I could have had a clearer view of the situation.

What if I repeated that experiment using concentrated glyphosate herbicide on just a center spot?

Other questions on foliar spraying come to mind:

What if I sprayed with water based broadleaf herbicide, but only sprayed the middle half of the plant?  Is that enough to kill it?  What about a quarter of the plant?

What if set up a series of tests of various broadleaf herbicides to see which had the best control of Lotus, but also the least off target damage?

Kudos to Mary Vieregg.  The prairie planting where I did this experiment was created in 2008 by volunteer steward, Mary Vieregg.  She and husband Jim picked and planted all the seed, and weeded if for years after.

The Vieregg planting at Clear Creek Knolls of Nachusa Grasslands.

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Weed management tips

By Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands Project Director, TNC

The photo below shows a nail pouch that clips to my belt.  Those are king devil flower heads in there.  I pluck the heads and spray the basal rosettes.  This is easy and I call it fun.

Year round I have a quart sprayer of some herbicide in my vehicle sitting in a five gallon pail.  In winter it is a basal bark herbicide solution since it won’t freeze.  In summer I also carry a bottle of  water based broadleaf herbicide.  Lately it has been a solution of 2% Garlon 3A with a bit of blue dye.  It is very pleasant to hop out of the truck, grab a squirt bottle, and treat an autumn olive or a birdsfoot trefoil, without having to put my backpack on.

Below is a jug of broadleaf herbicide.  It is marked  RTU which stands for Ready To Use, meaning it is not concentrate but diluted, with a surfactant and colorant added.  I carry about a gallon in the jug as it is easier to fill the bottles that way.  I have a funnel with me.  Or you can fill the squirt bottles from your backpack sprayer.

Below are five squirt bottle brands.   Some of these bottles cost very little and you get five minutes of frustrating air spray or sometimes a few months of good herbicide spray from the same cheap bottle.

My favorite sprayer of late is this one which came as a Chlorox cleaning solution.  I peeled off the label.  On the other side I used a label maker to mark it as “Broadleaf herbicide”.  This model will spray every drop as that pickup tube comes from the very bottom front, so you don’t pump air when the bottle is tilted down.  They spray a moderate cone of mist.  So far these are awesome.

The nozzle has that short red tube.  It has a quarter turn connect.  I don’t see these for sale on line.  You can buy some more cleaning solution!

Below you are looking down at one big invasive birdsfoot trefoil with the yellow flowers.  Carrying a hand sprayer means it is easy to bend down and gather up that sprawling plant as I did here and then squirt the middle of the “braid” with a dose.  The prairie dock should survive.

Below is a repurposed class A foam container to hold water for a simple hand washing station.  I drilled a hole in the edge.  Just lay it over and it trickles out water.  Sometimes I carry soap but just the water is very nice to have around.  Don’t fill it all the way, a gallon or two last a few days.

Below is a plastic hinged box to hold items useful in weed work.  Disposable rubber gloves, blue tree marking paint, sun screen, ear plugs, paper towels, safety glasses, a little bottle of eye saline, MSDS sheets.

Of course a backpack is a common item to carry in my truck.  This is a new model for us we are trying.  I like its folding handle.  The clip seems to hold the nozzle wand.  The wand is metal.  It has a padded shoulder straps and back pad.  The fill lid is deep and wide which means less splashing on fill up.  We bought a few of these and the pressure seems poor and the shut off of the spray is not crisp, but drips a bit.  I don’t know if we are doing something wrong with them.

I encourage our crew to just put in a 1.5 gallons of mix to keep the weight low.  This pack full would feel like you were backpacking the AT.   Hopefully we walk more than we spray.  Carry a 2 gallon jug of RTU mix in the truck.

Last tip:

If you visit an invasive weed occurrence once a year to treat it the weed will likely increase.

If you visit the occurrence twice you will break even and maybe gain.

If you visit three or more times you likely make great progress.

Weed work is a marathon.

Carry the tools you need and be happy.










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When to manage against an invasive plant

Because one project is spraying invasive birdsfoot trefoil does that mean I should too?

How to approach this question for birdsfoot trefoil, or any invasive plant.

First gather information about an assumed invasive plant.  Look up websites, talk to managers you know, consult people with a history on the site.  For birdsfoot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus, you will likely find experts/botanists/natural areas managers consider it to be invasive.  They may not know what to do about it.  It has kept me humble.

But should you manage against it at your particular site?

First, study a map of your site that shows where any remnant habitats are located, where the habitat restorations are.  Note the good quality from the poor quality sections.

Then map the occurrences of the invasive plant across your site.  Below is a 2006 map from Nachusa.

Does the plant occur everywhere?  Does it occur on just the very poor restorations, or the old pasture with no native plants?  Or is it on the best part of the remnant habitats, or just on the degraded edges of the remnant?

Consider what harm you might do by working against the weed.  A quality remnant already saturated with an invasive plant may  be a case of leaving the weed alone.

On our Big Jump unit we have birdsfoot trefoil that is very thick and all across the remnant prairie.  Decades back trefoil seed was broadcast over that prairie to make a better pasture. To try to spray out the trefoil would leave little else in the way of forbs.  Trefoil produces lots of seed that stays in the soil a long time. Trefoil requires decades of annual visits to spray plants.  Our resources are limited.   So for this unit we want to contain the spread, leave the trefoil on the remnant, and instead spray trefoil in the adjacent ruderal areas.  We also spray any trefoil that occurs on our fire breaks or stewardship lanes so we don’t move the seed around on our equipment.

Below: The trefoil in the adjacent fallow field that had about four species of plants:  brome grass, timothy, weedy goldenrod, and lots of the yellow trefoil.  We used 1% Milestone herbicide as it works on the germinating seeds too.  This was not hard to do.  We could do this every few years.

On another large unit we have owned a long time we have been carefully backpack spot spraying trefoil from a remnant, and we have been spot spraying in restorations that are adjacent. This effort has been a 27 year long practice with multiple visits every year.  A labor of love.



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Using images to summarize a restoration project

We get so busy doing conservation that we often don’t report out on the work we accomplish.  Or we create a dry report and wonder if anyone reads it.  I was recently involved with a brush mowing project where we cleared a lot of habitat.  I wanted to try to explain why we mowing a lot of brush, planting seed, and using prescribed fire.  I decided to use Adobe Spark to produce a report on the work.   The link is here: https://spark.adobe.com/page/tJeXFdSRLvy2s/

Presentation can be made with other software such as ArcGIS StoryMaps or Power Point.  They all charge a fee.

A lot of the work we do in grassland restoration takes time to explain.  Visual aids help us bridge a gap.

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