I have Japanese Stiltgrass: Part 1

Brendan Murphy Tuesday, 10 July 2018

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Like a sore thumb, it stuck out. A different green, unlike the other grasses and flowers: this was Japanese Stiltgrass, and there was a lot of it.

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Japanese stiltgrass seedlings.

At first I panicked. I’ve seen this invasive plant overtake hundreds of acres like a wave. Was my meadow doomed?

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Japanese Stiltgrass can form dense stands, smothering out all other plants.

A closer look calmed me down. It was growing mostly along the edge of my driveway. I couldn’t see it at all in the meadow itself. Deciding it wasn’t a big threat, I tossed it in the “later” pile and forgot about it.

Then August came. Stiltgrass sprung up along the property line, growing up through the meadow. The neighbor had even more. It extended over 20 feet into the meadow from the property line. Was it anywhere else? I zigzagged around the meadow and property edges and found nothing.

This meant I had a chance – it wasn’t widespread, but concentrated in a 15x25 foot spot. This was manageable. I could contain or even push it back with only a couple hours of work and some occasional spot-checks. The meadow could be saved.
Before: Scattered, spreading clumps of Japanese stiltgrass expand into the meadow from the core infestation.

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Before: Scattered, spreading clumps of Japanese stiltgrass expand into the meadow from the core infestation.

So how did I do it? I prioritized my control. Starting where it was least dense, I began pulling. Sometimes the stalks broke. I’d grab again near the base, making sure to get the whole plant, including the roots. It got denser towards the property line. Some handfuls had 10-15 stalks.

But this is where I stopped. I was still 15 feet from the property line, but September was here and I was concerned about spreading the seeds (they remain viable in the soil for 5-7 years). I brought the garbage pail to the pile - carefully placed the grass inside - and called it quits for the season.

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After: The scattered stiltgrass has been hand-pulled and placed into a pile.

Stopping to admire my small victory, I scanned the meadow. Bubble bursted: I had missed a few clumps. These were quickly pulled. Back to scanning. More clumps. How could I have missed them? I thought I was thorough.

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There are at least 2 stalks of stiltgrass in this photo. Can you spot them? Not an easy task.

Japanese stiltgrass can be hard to spot when it’s amongst other grasses and wildflowers, so check your work. Had I not spotted these stragglers they would’ve had a leg-up on me next year. Checking your work can be as important as the removal itself.

Fast forward to October. In the front meadow, hundreds of scattered stalks rose above the grass, clover and plantain. My stiltgrass problem was bigger than I thought. And being October, I couldn’t do anything about it because pulling would only make it worse by spreading the seeds.

So what now? I learned important lessons for next year: scout earlier and more thoroughly. Will it work? Stay tuned.

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