Battle Of The Invasives


Autumn Olive Leaves and Blossoms.

I hear so much stuff about invasive plants.  “Oh you don’t want to plant that it’s invasive!” or “You better get a jug of RoundUp! That stuff will take over.”  About a  year or so ago I found a plant growing in the woods across the road and inquired on social media as to what it was.  It turns out the only right answer that I got was from a Kansas University Plant ID Twitter account.  That person told me it was the “Dreaded Autumn Olive” and I should eradicate them asap. Now, forgive my ignorance but if something produces food and I don’t have to do anything but harvest that food why in the wide wide world of sports would I want to eradicate it?   Energy output for little to no energy input is a win win where I live.


Johnson Grass and Curly Doc.

Having said all of that, I have come to understand the frustration that people have with invasives for a whole new reason.  Johnson Grass is a scourge that has nestled in and decided to make its home in our food forest area.  See, I can deal with honey locusts, mimosas, curly doc, comfrey, autumn olives and a host of other supposed invasives but this stuff isn’t the same.  According to its Wikipedia pageIt is considered to be one of the ten worst weeds in the world.” and if ingested by livestock after a freeze or when wilted by a dry hot summer it contains enough cyanide to kill cattle and horses. That is not something I care to have around.  Now then, I can attempt to stay on top of it with my trusty Japanese Rice Knife and that has been the option the last couple of years but it is making considerable advances into our raised bed pods that we built a couple years back.  These pods are about a foot and a half deep and this stuff has no issue coming all the way up from the bottom.  It also has no problem burrowing right through 1 inch thick layer of sheet mulch.  It spreads by rhizome and seed and there have even been some discovered in Argentina that proved immune to glyphosphate (RoundUp).  I am going to assume it got its immunity since it is a member of the Sorghum family and most likely bred with a GMO type of sorghum, but who really knows.  All I know is I get this sense of imminent dread when I think of that stuff taking over my fruit trees, berry bushes and Ma’s garden beds that she worked so hard to get ready.

Johnson Grass just up for spring.  It looks Innocent Enough Right?

Johnson Grass just up for spring. It looks Innocent Enough Right?

I have done a fair amount of research and was surprised to find a member at one permaculture forum in particular that actually claimed to use RoundUp judiciously for issues such as this.  He even went so far as to state that one of the founders of Permaculture Bill Mollison, said at one point in time that it was okay to use when all else fails.  I’m not so sure I buy into that and I don’t think I would use it even if he did condone herbicide use.  I can not envision myself ever putting another penny of my hard earned money into Monsanto’s coffers no matter how bad my situation is.  One of the other members of that same forum stated that in instances where things got really bad he/she would use large amounts of vinegar to raise the ph of the soil so that grasses were unable to grow. So what then? Come along behind that and plant it full of blueberries or strawberries or some other acid loving plant?  He said that if that wasn’t quite enough to get the job done to add some salt to the vinegar and that would most certainly get the job done. Ugh, all of that sounds pretty damn detrimental to the beneficial soil organisms that we have worked so hard to promote and take care of. Yet another of the people chiming in to that forum stated to try boiling water.  That would certainly be the least damaging to the soil in the long run but I’m not sure I could boil enough water kill it out of  what amounts to about 25 cu. ft. of earth that it has taken up residence in.  Therefore, I have formulated a plan, a plan so devious that it just has to work.  I hope it will work by crowding out the infestation of Johnson grass and its nefarious rhizomes and I will take care that the tops do not get a chance to make seed by working them over with my trusty rice knife on a very regular basis.  What could possibly do battle with such an insidious monster as Johnson Grass you ask?

Da Da Da Da, Da Da, Sunchokes To The Rescue!

Da Da Da Da, Da Da, Sunchokes To The Rescue!

 That’s right sunchokes.  I read all the time about how invasive they are and how once you plant them you will never be able to get rid of them.  They will choke the light out and nothing will be able to compete with them and how if you leave one little root in the ground they will just come back next year.  As a matter of fact I hear the same thing about comfrey and bamboo and a host of others as well. So, we’ll just see about this, we’ll see how these supposed horribly invasive food producing perennial crops hold up to a true invasive species.  I hope my little sunchokes choke the living you-know-what out of the Johnson Grass.  Either way I will get sunchokes out of the deal for a good long while and well, if the chokes don’t work then maybe I’ll plant some comfrey or something else in this pod.  I will get this problem sorted without any help from Monsanto and their ilk. 

Ok, so now it’s your turn.  How would you handle this mess I seem to find myself in?  Would you use RoundUp or one of the other options I have outlined here?  Do you have any first hand experience with eradicating Johnson Grass?  How did you get a foothold? What did you try without success?  Ma and I would love to hear about you successes and failures.


Well, that’s about all I got, take it easy.




14 thoughts on “Battle Of The Invasives

  1. Pa,

    I would not use Roundup. Nope. Many of the same reasons you have stated. I might try solarizing, that would depend on the orientation, so it might not work. And that would be slow, taking perhaps a couple of years. So I think your approach is what I would start with. Consider it a battle of the titans. I am looking for more places to put comfrey, so that would be on my list. Sunroot keeps coming back in the peony patch, in fact it keeps coming back most places. One year rodents nearly wiped out the sunroot. But the following summer a friend insisted I dig up all 40 pounds of the sunroot she had planted from tubers I gave her.

    • Yeah I think the lay of the land (slight north slope) might keep that solarization idea from being real effective. Our cats like to hang out in the area to hunt birds and lay in the shade so I don’t think rodents are going to be an issue for our sunchokes. If they do they cats might get fired. 😉 Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I wouldn’t use Roundup either. I am trying to figure out how to turn this around using “the problem is the solution” concept. We have canary grass that at first we were going to battle with until we figured out we could cut it and use it as a mulch. We are also going to try to make silage with it and see if the chickens will eat it. Later when we have pigs, they’ll probably eat it fresh. But with the Johnson grass having the potential to poison cattle – that might not be an option! Interesting to note that it was originally planted as a forage crop though. I think your “fight fire with fire” plan sounds good. From my reading, cutting the grass continually will reduce seed spread as well as start to weaken the rhizomes. Sounds like some tilling has the potential to help eradicate it by breaking up rhizomes and bringing them to the surface where they dry out – but the catch there is that it takes over disturbed areas rapidly, so maybe that is the where the sunchokes and comfrey come in to play. It’s a dance, you have to get the timing right. Good luck Pa!

    • I have mulched out garden paths with the stuff and will continue to do so but if you let it get big like I have in the past it’s almost like bamboo and sort of slick when you walk on it. I hope this plan of shopping and dropping and choking it out works… Thank you.

  3. (fellow OPDC student)
    I’d be VERY cautious about tilling anything with rhizomes. Plants with invasive hardiness tend to grow new plants from even the tiniest piece of rhizome. I think that depriving the grass from sunlight (photosynthesis) will weaken it enough for the sunchokes or something else to take over. Chop and drop, chop and drop, chop and drop!!

  4. We have Johnson Grass here as well. It is in my garden beds, but haven’t seen much (knocking on wood) anywhere else. Last year I continuously pulled chopped it at ground level just before it started to set seed and dropped it where it was. Then other areas I pulled it up as much as I could, in my day lilies, and dropped them with the others. The hardest thing about Johnson Grass I think is that one day you can look at it and it is about an inch tall and the next day it is 4 foot tall and all seeded out. It just waits for you to take a day or two off from the battle.
    Good luck!!

    • My tactic has been to chop it and drop it as well and I wasn’t all that worried until it started popping up in our beds this year. I will beat this stuff! Thanks for stopping by.

    • I looked and looked as I was writing and researching for this post and could not find it but when you asked I went back and looked and found it. Mom used to say “If it’d been a snake it would have bitya.” Here it is. @KSTATE_PlantID
      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. We have a similar problem here in New Zealand with Kikuyu, which is in fact part of the same family (Poaceae – as Johnson grass. There are 2 ways i have found to control it
    1. Strip this as much as possible, water it well then cover it totally with black Polythene. Then every few months lift up the polythene and strip the ground again. What you will see is that it has sent out runners looking for sunlight, they are all white and soft and easily removed. Water well again the cover up with the polythene and leave again for several months. Just keep repeating the process until its gone. What you are actually doing here is preventing it from getting any sunlight, and without light it can’t photosynthesize so it can’t produce energy to grow. What energy it has already stored in its rhizomes will quickly be used up in sending out more runners, which you just keep clearing out from under the polythene. Eventually it will run out of energy and die.
    2. Cover it with a very thick layer of freshly cut lawn clippings, maybe 20 to 30 cm thick. Just keep piling up the grass clippings, and every times you see some work its way to the surface, just pile on more grass. The grass with have the same effect as the polythene above but it will also heat up and eventually cook the rhizomes underneath.
    With both of these methods be sure to cover it completely and be sure you extend well past the edges to make sure you get it all. There is no 100% guarantee but they are both chemical free methods. You may still get the odd bit still pop up but that is much easier to control. Hope this helps you some.

  6. Hi! We are new to Oklahoma and would love to have some autumn olive around the new place. Any idea where we might be able to get one? Thanks!

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