Zika Virus Threat: Don’t Double Down On Trouble

Mosquitoes carry diseases but that doesn't mean pesticides are the answer.


Editorial by Miles Benson

First responders to any Zika virus threat in this country had better be careful. Very careful.

The worst consequences of exposure to the disease itself are scary. But those fighting Zika should avoid tactics that risk piling on collateral damage. Elected officials charged with protecting public health and also those appointed to similar positions in the numerous local, state and federal agencies whose job it is to combat health emergencies on the ground should also recognize and try to limit an additional problem. That concern is whether, and how much, any new chemicals employed widely against Aedes aegypt, the mosquito that carries the virus, will add to the toxic chemical brew that has been building up in the environment over the past 50 years of agricultural and industrial commerce.

The public currently is exposed to tens of thousands of chemicals deemed “safe” mainly by people making and selling them. A rising chorus of concern is being voiced by environmentalists who question the safety of these chemicals, particularly when they become mixed with other toxins the public encounters daily. Many fear that a half century of exposure to environmental contaminants is associated with neurological defects, including autism, memory loss, mood changes, disorientation, infertility and genetic anomalies throughout our population.

We’ve come a long way, baby? 1940’s nostalgia.
Photo: Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information.
Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services.
(03/09/1943 – 09/15/1945)

Horror Story

Today, Americans are watching a horror story unfolding across Central and South America where women infected by the Zika virus are giving birth to children with abnormally small heads, a condition called microcephaly, that is associated with incomplete brain development. While the public may expect that massive spraying of pesticides would prevent outbreaks here, the New York Times reported that the Aedes aegypti mosquito is “relatively impervious” to outdoor spraying. That might mean more reliable and perhaps more lethal chemical formulas will be deployed by manufacturers if Zika outbreaks here begin to occur and trigger public panic.

We live in a sea of uncertainty. Zika could spread to the continental U.S. … or not.

In Florida, the Aedes aegypti mosquito has been around for several years and experts in and outside of government believe existing pesticide spraying practices, including what are called “adulticides,” pose no unreasonable major threat to public health. But a 2009 report by the state’s Coordinating Council on Mosquito Control, funded by the University of Florida, described in cautionary terms the trade-offs we may be facing: “Since it is currently impossible to predict the long-term consequences of human exposure to synthetic compounds, including mosquito control agents, a prudent strategy is for society to reduce all unnecessary chemical applications.

Changing Landscapes into Gardens: The Lawn

Housing developers give little thought to landscaping and the effects of lawn and introduced non-native plants on the environment.


by Julie Liu

Suburban neighborhoods keep changing.  New families move onto older blocks, bringing with them a fresh aesthetic. Throughout the Washington DC suburbs homeowners are downsizing, upsizing, painting, adding front porches and tearing down to rebuild new homes altogether.  Neighbors notice and compliment, secretly critique, or find inspiration for their own next project.  What doesn’t seem to change so dramatically is the landscape design.  Evolved vibrant and modern architecture replaces previous homes yet many landscape designs surrounding newly built homes simply duplicate what was already there.

The curb appeal of the 1950’s, which was dominated by a grand expanse of lawn, often still exists, even in the most modern neighborhoods.  Passers-by may compliment the homeowner on their renovation.  “Lovely porch,” they might say.  But rarely is heard, “Wow, who does your lawn edging?!” or “Nice mulch job!”.  I wonder if the suburban landscaping has become so mundane that few even notice it at all?  Perhaps it is time to rethink the landscaping in our neighborhoods and create gardens that appeal to our senses, add character and compliment our individual styles, while also contributing to the well-being of our environment and the wild creatures that inhabit it.

A large residential house with traditional landscaping and lawn. This type of garden landscaping is an ecological disaster.
Traditional landscaping with introduced plants and a lot of turfgrass.

Historically as American suburbs developed in the post-WWII era, builders of housing developments sought to unify blocks of homes not only with architectural similarities, but also with ribbons of turf grass.  The Front Lawn expanded across property lines to visually eliminate boundaries and encourage conformity.  Homeownership, complete with a perfectly coifed lawn, sculpted shrubbery and straight-lined concrete pathways, became a mid-century symbol of progress, achievement and patriotism.

The 50’s landscape trend is part of my own Northern Virginia neighborhood.  Front-yardscaping often resembles a static sort of decoration where plants are chosen to sit in a green expanse of lawn despite the change of seasons and evolution of time.  Excessive pruning, mowing, leaf blowing and fertilizing are often managed by hired keepers and plants are made to conform to a rigid and unnatural aesthetic.  Some local nursery designers plan landscapes according to pre-chosen plant lists, using formulaic combinations repeated from one site to the next while encouraging the use of foreign, non-native plant materials.  There is little imagination in that approach and I propose a challenge!

HOA communities are often maintained with a similar uniform approach to architecture and landscaping.  While many homeowners prefer the strict adherence to a certain pre-determined neighborhood aesthetic, others wanting to change the acceptable “norm” may find it difficult to achieve without approval by an HOA ruling body.  These neighborhoods, which are quickly being constructed throughout the Washington DC region could be a perfect proving ground for establishing a new American garden style that emphasizes native plantings and creative landscape design.

There are many benefits to planting a varied gardenscape.  As an extension of the house, the front yard could be a stylish space to relax, recreate and entertain guests.  Densely planted with native species, it becomes a healthy ecosystem of plants that nourish pollinators and birds.

If designed smartly, mixed gardens and trees will absorb excessive rainwater, prevent erosion and contribute to the cooling of homes in summer heat.  A lawn cannot achieve the same feats.  Turf is a slightly better alternative to the dead zones of hardscaping and concrete but offers less in return at the expense of constant care and maintenance.  With added perennials and native grasses a community of gardens could act as a part of a linked system of “snack bars” for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

The lawn continues to enjoy a dominant place in the spaces around our homes.  So why not make use of it?  Sitting on freshly mowed grass is a delightful way to enjoy the outdoors and we should lounge on the front lawn, run barefooted and picnic with friends and neighbors more often.  There is social, recreational and restorative value to manicured grasses in our landscapes, and more so when residents indulge themselves and enjoy it.  Sadly short on time and for lack of enthusiasm, having and maintaining a lawn becomes a chore.

A woman is enjoying sitting on a lawn and playing a board game. Lawns should be used and not merely maintained.

Lawns should be enjoyed and used – not merely maintained.
Photo by Sandor Weisz/flickr/CC.

Re-imagine your yard.

  • Rather than isolating a wide expanse of your land for turf, use it in combination with many native plants.  When treated as a “feature” within our gardenscapes, turf becomes more interesting.  Design it to have a creative shape.  Consider removing some concrete paths and use lawn as the pathway, or create a checkerboard patio with squares of lawn and stone pavers.  Horticulturists and other scientists are breeding seed to withstand extreme drought, poor soils and varied light conditions, thereby offering more earth friendly options.
  • Go crazy on your lawn and tear it all out!  Plant a no-mow alternative in its place.  A low maintenance native grass, such as Buffalo grass or Pennsylvania sedge closely imitates the look of common turf while providing greater benefit to the environment. Less mowing and fertilizing equates to less noise, water usage, air and ground pollution, and maintenance costs.
  • Ask garden centers to stock American plants since well-sited North American natives tend to survive local environmental conditions with greater success and less maintenance.  Plant regional Virginian natives in your Virginia garden.  Enjoy the growth and changes these plants make throughout the seasons.
  • Share ideas between neighbors and help each other visualize other possibilities beyond the traditional.  Consult with your neighborhood gardeners to learn what plants grow successfully in their native gardens and they will likely share seed and plants with you.
  • Visit a local horticulture center and the U.S. National Arboretum to attend lectures and view examples of eco-savvy gardens.  Learn the recommended “best practices” for ecologically sound turf and garden maintenance.  Be aware of proper chemical use and local laws dictating appropriate timing for application of fertilizers.  Better yet, eliminate all chemical use and employ organic methods for garden maintenance.
Native plant gardens are environmentally sound. Replace lawn with native plants.
The author's backyard garden is not just beautiful, it's also ecologically sound.

We are only limited by our imagination.  And there’s no better time than now to start creating a beautiful garden that is a reflection of you.

Sources and Resources:

Home Turf: A program offered to residents of Fairfax County to help maintain lawn.

Urban and Suburban Meadows, Catherine Zimmerman. Matrix Media Press, 2010.

“Great Native Graminoids”, Shelly Stiles. American Horticulturist Magazine, April 1995, p. 18-23. (Using native prairie grasses and turf replacement in the landscape is not a new idea!)

A native of Northern California, Julie now resides in Falls Church, VA.  Her interests include growing vegetables and flowers, and learning more about non-native plant alternatives and environmentally responsible gardening practices.

The Killing of Lawn (And the Planting of Native Plants)

Compost and newspaper are simple tools used to kill turfgrass for installing native plants.


I confess. I did it. I smothered our lawn. There was a vibrant swath of lush turf occupying the bulk of the front yard and I quietly murdered it. It was a crime of passion.
Travel with me back to the early winter month of November 2012. That’s when the idea of transforming the lawn into a productive vegetative habitat crept into my head and, like a catchy pop tune, wouldn’t leave my brain alone. Obsessive thoughts of wild creatures. Of seductive native plants. It was early winter, with drab charcoal skies, cool temperatures and growing darkness. The dismal days further fueled my desire to do the dastardly deed of death.


The new area would be a native perennial island oasis ringed by a narrow path of turf that I would spare. I mowed the large area short. Newspaper I had dumpster dived out of the nearby recycling center was then laid over the sheared grass about four sheets thick. I chucked a few inches of compost over the paper layers, shoveling with the zeal of a demented gravedigger. The act was now complete. All I had to do was wait. Visions of decayed turf grass combined with springtime planting filled my murderous heart with anticipation. It would be a long winter.
Lawn is reduced in order to plant native plants. Native plants are vital to all life.
The newly smothered ‘island’ outlined by a turf path in early 2013.


Although my crime was brazenly perpetrated in broad daylight, no one came by to interrogate me. No legal document was shoved into my compost stained hands demanding me to cease and desist. No uniformed lawn enforcement official slapped me in cuffs and marched me away. Residing in a neighborhood without a Home Owner’s Association certainly has its advantages.


Many wintry months later, in spring 2013, the area was ready. “Commence planting!” I shouted with glee. And plant I did. The first year was definitely experimental and a period of observation. What would grow in weird and what would be wonderful? Many of the purchased plugs and the transplants from other areas of the garden grew well but it would be another year before they would fully mature. In early 2014, I lovingly moved some of the plants around. They were happy and grew taller and fuller. By early summer I couldn’t make my way through the center of the island even if I wanted to.
Within and around the new refuge was the expected frenzy of fascinating insects — but the island was magical and it beckoned to other critters as well. I discovered a docile garter snake sunning itself on crisscrossing stems one warm day in June. In late July, a perky song sparrow popped in and out of the miniature forest and I realized she had built a nest in the safety of the foliage. The late summer months were filled with goldfinches delighting in the many seeds. And throughout the summer the neighborhood kids came by to seek out the pretty butterflies and plump bumblebees. Ahh, success! My murder was justified.
The killing of lawn is an environmental act whose time has come. It is surprisingly easy. And truly soul satisfying.
A garter snake basks in a native plant garden where there previously was lawn.
This garter snake was an exciting and unexpected discovery.
Fascinating like this broad-headed sharpshooter visit native plant gardens.
Fascinating insects like this broad-headed sharpshooter
occupy native plant landscapes.
Lawn was replaced with native plants in this residential property.
More visually stimulating than lawn? I think so. Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) dominates this perennial native plant habitat.


Lawn is not a good choice for the health of the planet for many reasons:

  • Lawn doesn’t support much life except for Japanese beetle grubs
  • Lawn caregivers often put all kinds of toxic chemicals on it
  • Lawn essentially acts like concrete, creating storm water runoff
  • Gas mowers spew air polluting compounds
  • Lawns that are watered waste a precious resource

Mosquito Control Without Pesticides

Mosquitoes can be controlled without using toxic pesticides.


by Marc Genberg

Many folks are tempted to use any means necessary to control the annoying swarms of mosquitoes that infiltrate our yards in the heat of summer. We can get frustrated in our attempts to use the natural but seemingly inadequate citronella candles and are easily tempted by marketing messages touting conventional pesticides. These pesticides are dangerous and not just to mosquitoes.

Most commercial pesticides contain toxins that can kill beneficial insects such as bees, lady bugs, and praying mantises, and they also leave residues that run off into streams, get on pet’s paws, or on children’s shoes or feet. Many of these pesticides are considered “probable carcinogens” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some pesticides are safer than others but they all have their risks.

In the Mid-Atlantic, our mosquito problems and their related disease potential do not warrant the heavy firepower and associated scorched earth tactics of any pesticides, however annoying insects can be. Rather than spray these toxic chemicals in our yards we can choose to use natural mosquito control methods. Our wildlife, including birds, bats, and other insect-devouring creatures will certainly be grateful.

Take Action Against Mosquitoes:

  • Dump all standing water regularly, including from gutters, drain tubes, toys, tarps, and flower pots. The entire life cycle of some mosquitoes is approximately 8 – 10 days. Help your neighbors to remove their standing water, too.
  • Clean and refill bird baths regularly to stop mosquito breeding and also help keep birds healthy.
  • Use bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) pellets in water traps to kill mosquito larvae. Do not spray Bti as spraying will indiscriminately kill beneficial insects.
  • Yellow patio light bulbs or LED bulbs attract fewer mosquitos than traditional white bulbs. You can also help our light-sensitive moths and birds by using a motion-activated light.
  • Wear long sleeve shirts and pants outdoors.
  • If you prefer not to apply DEET to your skin, Picaridin is as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes. Note: Never apply personal repellant under clothing.
  • Mosquitoes seek still air so use a fan to help keep the weak flyers away.

Dragonflies and damselflies are voracious mosquito hunters that frequent our property even though we don’t provide a pond for them. Our native plant gardens take credit for attracting these pretty predators: flowering plants and a vegetated habitat is a welcoming place for dragonflies to shelter and dine. Other mosquito predators such as bats, amphibians, birds and spiders are also enticed by “green” gardens.

Why Go Native?

Native plants support all kinds of life. This is a checkered-fringe prominent caterpillar (Schizura ipomoeae) on its host plant, American hazelnut (Corylus americana).


In the warmth of the growing season, my garden is humming with life. A dizzying array of native bees, swallowtail butterflies, skippers and fritillaries, click beetles and praying mantises, buzz and flutter and float and swoop and hop and creep, along with a host of insects I can’t begin to identify. For the first time, there are monarch caterpillars. Planting butterflyweed brought these endangered beauties to me.

Someone wise said, “If you plant them, they will come.” And they do. American goldfinches are common visitors to the seed heads of hollow Joe-pye weed. Ruby throated hummingbirds sip nectar from the cardinal flowers that I plant just for them. Our North American sparrows feast on the ripe seeds of IndiangrassNew England aster and orange coneflower. I have invited nature into my garden by simply adding plants that originally evolved here: native plants. It’s like there’s a party going on.

A monarch butterfly nectars on golden rod (Solidago spp.).
A newly emerged monarch butterfly.

Reasons to Add Native Plants to Your Garden:

  • native plants provide food and shelter for our wildlife
  • natives are essential for sustaining biodiversity
  • our insects, including butterflies, require native plants for reproduction, for survival
  • a majority of our birds depend on insect protein and fat for their reproduction
  • planting natives will help prevent intrusion of invasive, non-native plants
  • correctly sited natives need less water and less harmful fertilizers and pesticides
  • choosing natives will help save our natural heritage for future generations

Updated April 9, 2016

Pesticides: An American Tradition

Tradition pesticides are harmful to both humans and the environment.


We all embrace customs, some silly and small, some big and important.  Summer barbecues.  4th of July parades.  The Superbowl party.  Pumpkin pie.  An aversion to the metric system.  Ours is a culture with many traditions, some born of social habit, others shaped by our response to technological innovation.  All of them contribute… something to the patterns of civilized life in society and by now we automatically, unconsciously accept these habits as good.  But that’s not good.  Some customs, by intense over-practice, outgrow their benefit.  Here’s one screaming for modification: our vast over use of pesticides.

The United States accounts for roughly 22% of all pesticide use worldwide and an astounding 78 million households apply nearly 66 million pounds of these chemicals annually.  And it’s not just for suburban turf care.  It includes the fungicides that keep our ornamentals glossy, herbicides that so easily eliminate unwanted weeds, and the insecticides that terminate the insects we often unfairly judge as loathsome.  We’ve been taught that a perfectly lush lawn flanked by pristine shrubbery is a more essential part of the American dream than the white picket fence.  And these ideas can be passed from generation to generation.

My family is a perfect example.  My grandparents, who immigrated to Hawaii from Japan, used pesticides on their taro crops.  My mom remembers her dad mixing batches of chemicals and strapping a large vessel of the mystery solution onto his back before heading out into the fields.  Later, my mother, who ran an orchid business, liberally doused pesticides on her exotic flowers.  And because Hawaii is the perfect host not only for mosquitoes but also for every other creepy crawler in tropical paradise, I, in turn, learned to keep a can of Raid at the ready and didn’t think twice to aim and spray.  We do what we’ve learned.

Rarely do we question our patterns of behavior.  Could these habits be outdated?  My astute husband reminded me over and over again that pesticides were highly toxic – and not just to the targeted insects.  It took quite a few years for me to phase out the use of these home and garden chemicals.

The use of ‘cides comes with a heavy cost.  Not only for the already teetering health of the environment and every living creature in it — but also for us humans.  Research is showing that many of the ingredients, both the active and the inert, are turning out to be dangerous.  Fetuses, infants and children are particularly vulnerable.  Beyond Pesticides warns of the long list of exposure risks that include ADHD, birth defects, obesity, heart disease, lower IQ, leukemia and other cancers, and endocrine disruption.

Pesticides are used wantonly, impulsively, and without consideration of long-term consequences.  They are so widely used in agriculture and other commercial applications that the only place we have some control over where they are not is on our own properties.

Ultimately, it’s okay to have spots of powdery mildew on your perennial.  Or you could choose to replace the offending plant with a better performing one.  Aphid infestation?  Aphids feed adult ladybugs and their larvae – but if you don’t like the look of the aphids, blast them off with some water.  Got English ivy or weeds?  Forgo the Roundup, engage in some exercise and pull them up by hand.  Or hire someone to do the digging for you.  As home and garden consumers it is time we moved away from conventional pesticide control to more ecologically and biologically healthy practices.  It’s a simple but powerful step.

Let’s continue to celebrate our beloved American customs.  Let us also start a new tradition of becoming a pesticide free society.

Do Not Plant: Bradford Pear

Callery or Bradford Pear is a highly invasive tree that is nonetheless sold in garden centers. The advice from ecologists is "do not plant."


The asian import, Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana), commonly called Bradford Pear, is an ornamental tree that’s widely used in landscaping.  It has, like so many other nursery-grown plants, escaped from residential and commercial land and is designated as invasive in more than half of our states. This tree greedily invades natural habitats and out-competes our valuable native species for resources.

An ever-mulitiplying area of invasive Callery or Bradford Pear blooming in spring.

“Do not plant” is the official advice regarding this invasive. I’d like to add, “Do not propagate” and “Do not sell.” Please! Unfortunately the Bradford Pear is legal to sell here in Virginia and I suspect this is the case in most of the states it’s sunk its insidious roots into.

The Curse of the Bradford Pear” is a no-holds-barred look at this unfriendly tree.

If you like their white flowers and habit, here are some handsome Mid-Atlantic native alternatives to the Callery Pear for your consideration (sources noted below):


Common/Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
Light Reqirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Canadian Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist, Wet
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

American Hornbeam/Ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana)
Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) – 
Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

White Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Cockspur Hawthorne (Crataegus crus-galli)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Green Hawthorne (Crataegus viridis)
Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist, Wet
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Sweet Crabapple (Malus coronaria)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist, Wet
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica)
Note: this tree can grow to 100’
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
Note: Not recommended for urban areas
Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

American Plum/Wild Plum (Prunus americana)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist>
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia)
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Southern Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist, Wet
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Black Haw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist, Wet
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

The best plan is to use local ecotypes (plants native to your area) that grow in the same conditions as your garden’s. Soil pH, light and moisture should be taken into consideration before planting to insure long term success.


Invasive.org: Callery Pear

Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources: Callery or Bradford Pear

US Fish & Wildlife Service: Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping, Chesapeake Bay Watershed

USDA Forest Service: Invasive Plant Fact Sheet: Bradford Pear

Updated July 2, 2018

Did the Pachysandra Kill the Hickory Tree?

Pachysandra is a commonly sold and planted ground cover that is invasive in some areas of the country. There are many other alternatives to this plant.


by Joan Gottlieb

In my yard there is a large bed of Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), a plant widely used in landscaping. This hardy evergreen ground cover spreads by rhizomes to create what some proponents consider a “dependable green carpet.” If allowed to escape, it will cover a large area with a Pachysandra monoculture. Since my bed is contained, I wasn’t worried about the spreading. Although a bed of native plants would surely provide better habitat, the Pachysandra seemed a relatively benign bit of greenery. Its removal was not my priority. Until recently…

Within this bed, surrounded by the Pachysandra, there’s a mature hickory tree that didn’t leaf out fully last summer. Each branch showed signs of stress with small, sparse leaves. Many branches had areas with no leaves at all. I consulted an arborist who had no explanation for the decline but suggested a fertilizer treatment be applied in the spring. Hmmm.

Gardener holds invasive pachysandra.
Me, my hickory and the Japanese spurge in hand.


Over the winter, I began the long ignored task of Pachysandra removal, partly to allow inspection of the tree base, but also because it really was the right thing to do. The Japanese spurge was very easy to pull by hand from the soft, humus-rich soil. But what my pulling unveiled was a deep network of tangled roots that had buried the hickory’s root flare and smothered it with layers of moist debris.

Removing the evergreen Japanese spurge revealed rotting bark.

Sadly, the entire circumference of the tree’s base was now spongy decaying bark – bark that would otherwise protect the tree itself.

The dense mat of invasive pachysandra roots.
A dense mat of Pachysandra terminalis roots.
Hickory tree bark rotted from the evergreen invasive pachysandra.
Rotting bark revealed.

I do not yet know if the tree can be saved. Did my negligence allow the Pachysandra to kill the hickory tree?

Information about the homicide suspect can be found through Pennsylvania DCNR: Invasive Plants in Pennsylvania.

A discussion of its use in landscaping is here, but I do not advise using Pachysandra terminalis at all.

English Ivy: Doing What We Can May Be a Good Idea

English ivy is a highly invasive plant that climbs trees and kill them. English ivy should not be purchased or planted.


by Miles Benson

Lovely and seductive, this leafy, easy-to-grow and innocent-looking charmer has been around a long time.  It is an inexpensive decorative plant found inside homes almost everywhere.  Outside, it crawls the walls of elegant buildings on the campuses of renowned universities, engulfing them in deceptive green majesty (think ivy league).  It now runs loose in the wild across the nation.

It is, in fact, an invasive species, a noxious weed imported from Europe that has escaped control of not only of the federal government but the 50 state governments.  And “escaped” is precisely the term commonly used in scientific papers to describe the ivy’s spread across America.  Both federal authorities in the U.S. agriculture department, and officials in state agriculture departments acknowledge – usually off the record – that this is an escalating problem that they are just unable to deal with effectively.

Never mind the damage the ivy does to stucco and exterior painted surfaces of homes.  Never mind that it crowds out wildflowers, ferns and tree seedlings.  Never mind that it provides protective refuge for Norway rats in large numbers.  It’s a tree-killer.  The evidence is easily apparent even to inexpert eyes.  Around the nation’s capital, in pricey neighborhoods like Georgetown and public spaces like Rock Creek Park, and in the suburbs along the Potomac, the ubiquitous creepers surround and climb and cripple and strangle even the largest pillars of our shrinking canopy.  The evergreen ivy causes tree bark and rot problems and blow-overs in windstorms because of the “sail effect” of the vines’ mass.  Oh, and the mature vines produce berries believed poisonous to some birds species.

This is an issue that has remained mostly beneath our radar.  Although some conservation-minded people who care deeply about natural habitat describe English Ivy as “evil menace” I doubt the plant is motivated by malice.  It’s just behaving as a natural life form that happens to be in the wrong place, carried there by human error and commerce.

Some, but few, feeble attempts have been made to address the error. The states of Washington and Oregon actually have taken administrative steps to ban the propagation and sale of various strains of English ivy by nurseries and garden supply businesses.  But neither state has launched a full bore eradication effort, or require homeowners or anyone else to eliminate existing beds and vines. Mississippi has classified the plant as a noxious weed without banning sales.

To be sure, I am just tossing one more issue atop a mountain of urgent problems such as jobs, poverty, disease, health care reform, pollution, income inequality, political dysfunction, nuclear proliferation, jihads, terrorism, population growth, and global warming with its apocalyptic cohorts climate change, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and accelerating species extinctions, to name a few.  But this one item, this Hedera Helix, is something you can individually take action against, real hands-on action, the satisfying kind of action of actually and legally uprooting and destroying an interloper that lives within your reach and grasp.  How often to you get the chance to do that?

Certain death. English ivy girdles this 50+ year old tree.

Ditch the “Ditch Lily”

Orange daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) are invasive plants that should not be planted. An excellent alternative plant is butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa).


It is ubiquitous. The plant with striking orange flowers thriving in dense drifts.  In the shade, in the sun. In moist and dry locations.  On roadsides, in suburban yards. Hemerocallis fulva. Introduced to the ornamental trade from Asia in the late 19th century, the common daylily has since been cultivated endlessly due to its hardiness and its beauty.

There's not much use for daylilies

But beauty is only skin deep. Considered an invasive perennial in the Mid-Atlantic region by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, the common daylily naturalizes in the wild and displaces our native plants.

Invasive orange daylilies bloom in a neighbors' yard.
Common daylily growing in a neighbor’s yard.

Deer turn up their snouts at them in my neighborhood (as Bambi does with most alien invasive plants) and on close inspection not many other living things are attracted to them either. I’ve observed that there are neither bees, nor butterflies nor any other beneficial insects drawing nectar or pollen from the trumpet-shaped blooms.

Wikipedia claims the orange daylily is sterile, multiplying wildly not by seed but through their fibrous roots and rhizomes. Originally brought to America with the settlers, the orange daylily is actually the cultivar ‘Europa’. And with now over 60,000 registered cultivars, there is the possibility of other daylilies becoming invasive over time, too.

A tiger swallowtail butterfly nectars on native butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa).
Butterflyweed attracts many flower visitors. Outstanding!

A more wildlife-friendly option

So if you love the color orange, and it seems as though many people do, why not ditch the “ditch lily” in your garden and replace it with an overwhelmingly friendlier orange flowering perennial? A native species. A pollinator attractor. A plant that is the larval host to our Monarch, Grey Hairstreak and Queen butterflies: Asclepias tuberosa.  Commonly named butterflyweed or butterfly milkweed, this native grows 1-3 feet in height and can handle sun, part sun, dry or moist conditions, preferring well drained soils.

Tuberosa blooms cheerfully in June and July, concurrently with the common daylily. Butterflies and myriads of other pollinators can be found caressing the clusters of tiny neon flowers. The orange-reddish and black insects that congregate on the plants are milkweed bugs.

They draw their nourishment from the seeds in the milkweed pod but do not harm the plant itself. These critters are fascinating to watch — resist the urge to disturb them and just let them do their thing.

Butterfly weed is indisputably low maintenance like most native plants are. And it’s well-behaved and will not attempt to overtake your garden. Deep rooted and therefore drought tolerant, tuberosa is also very long lived. Plant en masse for a display of beneficially brilliant orange.