Phragmites on waterfront property. April 29, 2016. (Photo by Simon Crouch)

Comment: Stopping Phragmites Spread

There I was, driving down a paved secondary road in rural Ontario when I noticed the smoke. Huge black plumes of it heading straight up into the sky.

Seeing a bit of smoke in the spring is not uncommon as someone typically is interested in burning the ditches or even what they deem to be excess corn stubble or soybean straw.

This was nothing like that and I found myself heading down a small, fairly isolated, narrow, gravel road hoping it wasn’t yet another barn fire.

Then it hit me, I had driven down that same road earlier in the winter for an entirely different purpose and there are no barns on that section. No houses either.

A little sleuthing, and maybe a little snooping and I did figure it out. I was witnessing the results of a phragmite patrol.

Phragmites, in case you aren’t sure, are very tall grassy reeds that like marshy areas.

When they first arrived in Ontario from Russia, via the U.S. south a few tufts here and there looked good. However it quickly became clear they spread like wild fire, crowd out native species like bull rushes and marsh flowers and the animals that require them for habitat.

So our conservation authority is working to get rid of them, or at least impose a little control. It’s not easy because they spread by roots and seeds, and they grow tall and are aggressive.

You can burn them and they grow back. But I have only recently learned, if you roll them flat, then burn them the fire is a lot hotter because the fuel is more concentrated. That’s why I was seeing so much smoke.

This technique helps the fire get down deeper to the roots doing them some damage. They will still grow back but the fire was only step one. Step two is glyphosate, right at the stage where they are starting to flower. After the fire apparently it is quite effective on the new growth.

Now if the phragmites are invading your wetland or open meadow you’d be better off not trying this yourself. That fire looks like it could get out of hand easily.

The conservation authority that was doing the burn works with area fire and police departments when it does, that way there aren’t as likely to be lots of unneeded 911 calls.

It also works with a qualified, certified chemical application specialist.

They tell me it works quit well. Get rid of the phragmites and the native vegetation happily grows back. Good to see.

It’s nice to know there is something being done about this pest but one has to suppose it is a never ending battle. Clear them out and we presume they will eventually come back.

I wish the conservation folks the best and hope they clear wide swaths of this invasive weed. because likely the more areas that are free of it, the longer it will take to repopulate those areas.

Invasive weed; giving us all one more thing to think about when we are looking at nature.