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Controlling Invasive Plants in your Backyard

With so many natural and residential landscapes being overwhelmed by invasive exotic vegetation, having a yard with native Florida-friendly vegetation is not only beneficial to local ecosystems, but can also be financially appealing to southwest Florida homeowners.

Invasive exotic plants are non-native plants that have not only adapted successfully to our warm weather climate but are expanding and thriving on their own in native plant communities. Many of these plants were, and continue to be, brought in to this area as ornamental plants because of their aesthetic appeal and perceived benefits. Conversely, invasive-exotic species cause negative environmental impacts, often spurring unintended economic and ecologic consequences.

Many species of invasive exotic plants can out compete native plants for essential nutrients, water and sunlight. In general, invasive vegetation provides a habitat with inadequate shelter and insubstantial nutrient value for native wildlife. A prime example is the exotic Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinchifolius), whose fast growth overshadows the three native species of mangroves which form the base of the estuarine food web.

Non-native plants sometimes require more water and fertilizers than native plants, which have adapted to our climate and soils. But if the non-native plant can become established and invasive, this can make the species even more damaging to the ecosystem. For example, the melaleuca's tremendous water needs have the effect of lowering the water table and drying up the landscape. Furthermore, few natural pests, if any, exist to control the invasive plant population. Although there have been a few successful introductions of insects to help in the control of certain invasive plants such as the melaleuca, these options are extremely costly to develop and implement.

The first step in control of any invasive plant (or animal) is to correctly identify the pest plant. Common landscape invaders include Brazilian pepper, wedelia (Sphagneticola trilobata), ceasar weed (Urena lobata), and air potato (Dioscera bulbifera). Once the plant has been identified, proper removal is required in order to prevent further spread.

Air potato is a fast-growing vine, and control efforts involve both the removal of the viney plant and all tubers ("potatoes"). These should be doubled bagged and disposed at the landfill. Brazilian pepper can be treated with a cut stump treatment (CST). The cutting of the tree down to the stump is followed by an immediate application of an approved herbicide. Commercially available herbicides to treat Brazilian pepper include Roundup Super Concentrate and Roundup Brush. Once initial treatment is complete, regular inspection of the area needs to be conducted and retreated as needed. As vegetation seldom follows property boundaries, effective control may also entail treatment and follow-up inspections on neighboring properties.

Brazilian pepper

Brazilian pepper, often confused with a native holly

Although invasive exotic plants can be ecologically and economically damaging, they can be controlled on a homeowner's landscape. By working cooperatively with your neighbors to maintain an invasive exotic plan zone, educating yourself and your neighbors, planting Florida-friendly and native plants, and utilizing local plant information resources, homeowners can enjoy the benefits of an invasive free landscape.


Last updated: April 06, 2015

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