Under a canopy of trees in Woodbury resident Danae Bruning’s backyard, a variety of green plants provide ground cover.

But Bruning didn’t plant them herself. Much of the groundcover is considered weeds, and two of the most prevalent in Bruning’s yard are buckthorn and garlic mustard. Both are recognized as “noxious weeds,” a category of invasive plants, by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources.

Invasive plants are non-native and often harmful to their surroundings, according to the Midwest Invasive Plant Network. However, not all non-native plants are harmful - only the most aggressive earn the “invasive” label. These plants reproduce quickly and can substantially change the environment they grow in.

Buckthorn is one of the most notorious invasives in the area, quickly taking over in spaces native plants usually thrive. This can make it harder for wildlife to find food and can prevent tree saplings from taking root.

In an effort to spread awareness, Bruning invited Anna Barker, a Washington County master gardener, to speak at the Crackleberry Trail neighborhood’s annual meeting in June. Barker said her goal for the talk was to teach residents how to identify invasive plants and let them know what to do when they encounter them.

“You have these little pockets where you get people together and talk about the invasives - that’s how you spread awareness,” Bruning said.

Bruning has also taken removal of invasives into her own hands, spending up to two hours at a time pulling these plants from her yard. At two acres, it’s one of the smaller pieces of land in the Crackleberry Trail neighborhood, she said.

Bruning says invasive plants have also “totally ruined” local parks, including La Lake Park in Woodbury and Woodridge Park in Cottage Grove.

Washington County’s Natural Resource Coordinator, Dan MacSwain, said the county has multiple approaches to combating invasive plants in regional parks, including the use of chainsaws, fire and goats for the initial removal, and then following up with other means. MacSwain said the county is trying to expand its use of goats, like those dispatched to St. Paul parkland earlier this year and Cottage Grove in October 2016. He said they’re effective and one way to avoid the use of herbicides, which have had “mixed” results.

When the county first begins working in an area, MacSwain said it’s a “multi-year process” to start getting control of invasives.

“We’re not going to eradicate it anytime soon,” he said.

Lake Elmo Park Reserve, Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park and St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park are the main places the county has been fighting invasive plants, he said.

In Bruning’s opinion, what Washington County is doing isn’t working.

“It makes me sad,” she said.

While MacSwain and the county deals primarily in regional parks, the Washington Conservation District works more with private residents.

Tara Kline is a natural resource specialist for the Washington Conservation District, a Washington County organization dedicated to soil and water protection. Kline said the conservation district currently has no funding for the removal of invasive plant species on public or private land.

Because of this, “learning what are invasive plant species, how to control (them) on your property and how to report it is a good first step,” Kline said.

What you can do

Depending on the plant type, the Department of Natural Resources advises residents to kill, but not remove, invasive plants when possible. If plants do need to be removed from the area, the department says people should take them to a site regulated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. These sites compost in a way that prevents the invasive plants from spreading. To find a regulated location, such as The Mulch Store in Rosemount, residents can use findacomposter.com.

Importantly, disposing of invasives in regular trash cans is illegal in the state, and a permit is needed to lawfully transport them. More information about the removal and disposal of invasive plant species can be found on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s website.

PlayCleanGo, an initiative funded partly by the Department of Natural Resources, also works to educate people about the spread of invasive species in order to prevent it.

There are small grants available for private landowners through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and local watershed districts. The first step is setting up a free site visit with the conservation district, in which staff visit the area of concern and give guidance to the resident based on what they see, Kline said. More information can be found at www.mnwcd.org/invasive-plants.

The conservation district is also offering free workshops teaching invasive plant identification and control methods at the following times:

  • 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, at Big Marine Park Reserve
  • 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at Lake Elmo Park Reserve

Kline suggested residents call their state representatives and request more funding for removal on both public and private lands.

Barker also noted that funding is scarce for county and state removal programs, and said that more will be done only if the public is energized.

All the effort Bruning puts into taming invasive plants, both physically and by spreading the word, has made her son ask her why she does it.

“Because if I don’t do it, no one else will,” Bruning said she told him. “I want this land for you and your kids.”

The Washington Conservation District asks that residents report new sightings of invasive species and include the approximate address or location where the plant is growing at 651-330-8220. Residents should also contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture at 1-888-545-6684 or arrest.the.pest@state.mn.us. Invasives can also be reported using the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System app, or at www.eddmaps.org.