Needle in a Haystack

By Bryon Walters

Lespedeza cuneata is a serious invasive plant. It can be very problematic and can form large colony patches if left unattended. There have been many land managers implementing different methods and trying various herbicide products in hopes of ridding this invasive. Early detection and early treatments can greatly reduce its severity. Deal with it before the white flowers produce seed. The optimal window of treatment is before it even produces a flower.

For small patches, finding Lespedeza cuneata, in a late summer prairie can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. 

Once you find one flowering plant it can be easier to find any others that may be out there. They usually grow in loosely spaced groups. If the soil is very moist you can sometimes pull a plant up and get most of its long tap root. But usually the late summer prairie soil is as hard as a rock and you will not be able to pull up the plant. The stem may break but the root remains in the ground and you just kicked the can down the road, in that the same plant will regrow there next year. 

There is a surgical approach to dealing with this invasive plant and the results appear to be a 100% kill rate.

You can purchase these nice syringes on line in 10 packs. I buy the good ones with metal needles and plastic caps that stay on securely.

Before heading into the prairie I prepare my herbicide tool. Practice drawing up and dispensing water first so you have a feel for how the syringe works. Pour a 20% solution of Triclopyr (Garlon) 4 mixed with basal oil into a small measuring cup. Draw up the herbicide half way or more if you need it.

After placing the plastic cap on the syringe, grab your favorite sharp hand clippers. I like Felco #2’s. Find and cut the Lespedeza low to the ground.

As soon as you snip it take the syringe and hold the two side tabs. Then carefully push down on the top of the syringe which expels the herbicide on the cut stem. It’s ok to let a little dribble down the side of the cut stem, but don’t overflow. 

Take the entire plant you just cut and put it where you will not lose it. Gather them all up and look back, making sure you retrieved all cut plants. You do not want to go through all this work and leave a thousand seed plant laying in the prairie.

I then take these plants and place them on the burn pile.

Heading back to the shop sink. Put a little soap in a cup and run the soapy water through the syringe a few times to clean it up good.

I squirt the soapy water into my rinseate drum, not down the drain. 

Dry it off and place the plastic cap on and it will be ready for your next needle in a haystack surgery.

The cut and syringe method is useful for small to medium sized patches. There is great satisfaction in knowing you can have zero off target damage to the neighboring native plants. In one hour I was able to cut, treat and haul away about twenty-five plants. That was all that was needed, this year. If you had quite a few more than twenty-five plants, with a helper and three hours to spend some morning, you two could remove and treat 150 or so plants. If you have more than 150 plants in your project area, you have a major infestation. Other control methods may be necessary. As a land manager, you have to make this logistical calculation. Can you spare the manpower and hours for this type of work, or is a broadcast type method more practical? Try one of the methods, as procrastinating too long sows the seeds for restoration failure.

About Grassland Restoration Network blog published by Bill Kleiman.

Bill Kleiman's daytime job is manager of Nachusa Grasslands. We are looking for guest authors on various topics of grassland habitat restoration. Contact me with your ideas or drafts.
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4 Responses to Needle in a Haystack

  1. Mary Vieregg says:

    Hadn’t seen this done before. Great idea. Thanks.

  2. Leah Kleiman says:

    I had never thought of using syringes to apply herbicide. Sounds like a good precise method for high quality sites. Thanks Bryon!

  3. John Griesbaum says:

    Where do you dispose of your rinseate?

    • Bryon Walters says:

      I use it to make a 15 gallon drum of my “Bareground” mix. Nothing gets wasted or poured into my septic tank.

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