Eugene, OR

The Invasion of the Tiny Triffids

Julia Hubbel, Walkabout Saga, Horizon Huntress

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The invading species in my Eugene Oregon paradise

Mike Cornelius, owner of Rising Sun Landscaping, curved around the corner of my deck ahead of me and pointed at a spreading bed of lovely, soft green.

"Invasive," he said. I could hear him smiling. I see this plant everywhere. That means lots of work for me, and his crew, because I am beginning to run out of time to fight it.

No. I mean EVERYWHERE, as in through every garden, underneath my hiking boots, spreading swiftly into my yard. All over the southwest hills of Eugene, that's what I mean by everywhere.

At first glance, Shiny Geranium looks utterly lovely. It's green, soft, has red roots, and a tiny pink flower. The roots remind me of that old 1962 sci fi filmThe Day of the Triffids. Those were man-eaters.

This is much worse. The ground cover moves incredibly fast, seemingly out of nowhere. At first you get the impression that it's just a lovely groundcover until you realize that this Eurasian weed is choking every single living thing in your garden.

When I moved in last year, I had no idea what to expect. Part of the challenge of moving to a brand new state and buying a home with an established garden is figuring out who the bad guys are. As all my previous gardens have learned, I have a horrible habit of clipping away the gorgeous perennials to allow the milkweed to flourish, until some kind neighbor informs me that said milkweed is seeding her garden, thankyouverymuch, can we please talk?

At my last home in Denver, my beautifully-landscaped garden had meetings about me behind my back. The plants learned to lean hard in the other direction if they saw me coming, clippers in hand. It took a while. I learned. And in learning, I also realized that first, I am no gardener. Second, I needed professional help, especially when you have no clue what you're looking at.

Enter Mike.

Mike's a super easygoing guy with longish dirty blonde hair. I might have seen his whole face once or twice due to Covid. He was recommended by the previous owners. We had a few miscues at the beginning, as in which work I wanted to do and which I wanted his crew (mostly family) to do. Now we're into the full swing of it.

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A few weeks ago Mike and I were discussing upgrades to my yard. It's mature, which means that since 1977, a lot of trees and bushes have died off, leaving dense root balls and low trunks. I wanted more cover, so Mike planted two Japanese maples in what is effectively my front yard. For the longest time those two trees, a pair of root balls with bright red branches, sat forlornly. Now both have exploded spectacularly as the warmth and sun have coaxed them out. The jory soil that my hillside enjoys can also run off if there aren't enough plants. That's another issue, when I clear out offending weeds like the Shiny Geranium. Something has to take its place. Stay with me here.

Where I live, I enjoy a fir forest, which maintains a soft, cool and wet environment that the geranium loves. The species got a foothold a few years back and it moves like a train. I thought it was clover, and was delighted to see it move in. That was until Mike sent me to the Internet to look it up.

If I don't get the geranium under control, it will choke out every other spring flower that exists in my landscape. That's how bad it is. With that under my belt, and with instructions for Mike to bring his whole crew out for a solid day of weed whacking, I practice the same discipline I do at any campground: don't come back to your tent without fuel for the fire. In my case, any time I am outside, I make sure I pick up a triple handful of those weeds and dump them in the forest products bin that Sanipac empties every other week.

It is simply astounding to me that no matter how fast I work, no matter how much of this stuff I clear out, barely a few days later another patch has formed. I've never seen anything like it. It gives new meaning to the term "invasive."

Mike says that first, you don't poison it, because you poison the land, and that's the end of that. So no pesticides. Second, the only way to control it is to keep it at bay. AND plant clover. We'd agreed on that last year. We have steadily cleared out my land to get it ready for an infusion of topsoil, which will allow the native clover to take over. Once that's established, keeping the geranium out will be much easier.

But that's not the only intruder. I don't know the name of it, but when I moved in last August I realized that an otherwise quite pretty, vining, thorny plant was steadily choking a large rhododendron right next to the road. It took me several weeks not only to cut it back, but then to go after the roots. I swiftly discovered a root system just under the rocks that rivaled the Boston subway. I cleared out a good bit of it. And of course, this spring, delicate tendrils from the roots I couldn't reach were on their way back up towards my poor rhodie.

Will you please. I thought Florida and kudzu were bad. Turns out kudzu is here too, just not on my property. Yet.

That vine, however, is nothing compared to the blackberries that I have been uprooting between my neighbor's and my yards. I put in a week's worth of hard labor to clear out the back, and am now in her front yard going after those bushes which enjoy morning sun and the free water from my sprinkler system. Those are a whole other order of magnitude bigger, stronger and harder to uproot.

This article will give you an idea not only of what I'm doing but also what you can do about those berries:

https://homeguides.sfgate.com/remove-overgrown-blackberry-roots-85876.html

I had a terrific laugh at two things. First., NEVER put blackberry root balls in your compost. You can't imagine how fast they will take root and here you go again. Second, ANY part of the root can sprout again. Nature does not make a more determined plant. While the article advises a burn pile, that is not a good idea right now with warmer weather, less rain and a drought that won't quit. Put them in your pickup bin and let the pros take care of them.

The root balls are four times the size, buried in rocks, and positioned, natch, in places where it is nearly impossible for me to get any kind of leverage with my shovel. But I promised Emily I'd do it, and I am going after it late in the afternoon when the breezes cool my sweat. I've trashed my hands, but at least I made progress.

One of my neighbors came by the other day and commiserated with me. He'd just done the same thing in his back yard. All we can do is push back, for they will return. Taking out the root ball curbs their enthusiasm for a while, but Nature always wins.

The best news, however, is that Mike has my back when my back is too sore from picking up geraniums. As pretty as they are, the moment they flower, and they are flowering right now, their seeds proliferate on boots, shoes and any whim of the wind.

Time to get them off the property, until they come roaring back.

So why was Mike smiling? He'll never be out of work. Something is always invading paradise.

Just in case you are a newcomer like I am, before you get excited about planting some gorgeous new plant only to find out that the lovely soil here turns horticulture into a horror show, please see this:

https://www.eugene-or.gov/648/Native-and-Invasive-Plant-Policies

I get my planting advice from Mike. With any help, I won't get overrun by the berries, the geranium triffids and the weeks. At least the weather will be nice.

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Eugene, OR
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