Monday, November 30, 2020

Treating Garlic Mustard in the Offseason

Late last winter I began testing the effectiveness of spraying garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, rosettes with glyphosphate.  Spraying in late fall through winter has the advantage that most native species are dormant at that time.  While I did not have early satisfaction of find a lot of dead garlic mustard plants it did seem as though there were many fewer blooming stalks by mid-spring.  You can read about that in my blog post ‘Fighting Garlic Mustard with Fire? Or Something Else…

Here's a typical patch of garlic mustard as it looks in November.  It is accompanied here
by Japanese honeysuckle, another invasive that can treated at this time.

This fall I am repeating the spraying.  I had to wait until after some sub-freezing temperatures to make sure that the native vegetation was dormant and hence unaffected by the glyphosate spray.  The advantage of spraying in late fall is that there is less risk to the native vegetation, particularly the spring ephemerals, like Dutchman’s breeches and spring beauties.  Another reason to wait until fall is that a large number of garlic mustard seedlings (80-90%) do not survive the first year, as reported by The Nature Conservancy. So by waiting there will be fewer plants to treat and less herbicide used.  The drawback to fall spraying is that the fresher leaf cover on the ground can hide more of the rosettes.  Since I spray the individual rosettes rather than blanket spray I can move the leaves out of the way as I work and can use a lot less herbicide.  You can find a report on the effectiveness of winter spraying in this paper by Frey, et al

Another invasive that can be treated in fall is Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica.  Here on my zone 6-7 property Japanese honeysuckle does not go completely dormant and is still susceptible to glyphosate spray.  I sprayed a plot that was fairly dense with the honeysuckle this past week.  We’ll see in the spring if it made a difference.

There are a number of other invasive ground covers that are still green now, but according to the literature I found foliar glyphosate is not particularly effective at this time.  Among these are vinca, Vinca minor, creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea, and mock strawberry, Potentilla indica.  So despite my desire to be rid of these I did not waste any of my spray on these unwelcomed plants.

By target spraying I can avoid the native species that still have living foliage.  These include some plants with rounded leaves similar to garlic mustard like white avens, violets, and golden ragwort.  Other natives to avoid spraying include sedges and cool season grasses, ferns and any other early spring plants coming up early.


Winter rosettes of white avens have whitish veins.  You can see how
it compares to the deeply veined leaves of garlic mustard,
marked with white*'s.

In comparison to garlic mustard,
violet leaves are smooth and somewhat glossy.

Golden ragwort leaves are palmately veined
and are regularly toothed on the margins.

A fall trip through the woods also turns up other invasives with distinctive foliage or berries like winged euonymus, barberry, and Oriental bittersweet.  Small specimens of these can be pulled from the moister fall soil. These can also be treated with 20% solutions of glyphosate using the 'cut and paint method.'

I spotted this burning bush/winged euonymus because it still had foliage on it. 
Others with their namesake bright red foliage were even easier to see and pull.

To control garlic mustard one needs to use a combination of tactics appropriate to the situation and season.  Winter spraying with glyphosate will be easier and more effective than fire.  In the spring, pulling or targeted spraying would be most effective.  And for those plants remaining in the late summer, cutting close to the ground or continued pulling will be in order.

Summary of Garlic Mustard Control Measures







Late Fall to Early Spring


Difficult to achieve ideal conditions; Need to keep under control.

A good moderately hot fire is effective, but difficult to achieve.

Herbicide Spray

Dormant season

High kill rate; can be targeted; no soil disturbance.

Spraying toxic materials; may affect non-target species.

Dormant season spraying reduces non-target species effects.


Summer, after flowering

Non-toxic; cutting at ground level nearly 100% effective; minimal soil disturbance.

Labor intensive; disposal of cut stems/flower stalks; use of weed whacker causes collateral damage.

Very effective when done right.


Anytime ground is soft

Non-toxic; very effective as long as most of the root is removed.

Labor intensive; disposal of pulled plants required once flowers are present; soil disturbance.

Very effective.



John Emery Davis said...

Thank you. This is the kind of practical, experimentation that we need more of to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of invasive plant removal.

Curtis said...

Looking over the areas that I spot treated with glyphosate last fall, I am not seeing a significant reduction in garlic mustard going into bloom this spring. While not rigorous in my experimental technique, from my experience it seems that spraying garlic mustard with glyphosate in early spring provided better results than in either mid-February or mid-November. Since I did targeted spraying rather than blanket spraying the difference may be due to how well I could spot the garlic mustard for spraying. By late march much of the leaf litter had broken down and garlic mustard was starting to grow. Both of these factors make it easier to spot plants for treatment.