Miss Floribunda: Honeysuckle and ivy have risks

March 20, 2013

Dear Miss Floribunda,

A new neighbor of mine is tearing ivy and creeping periwinkle out of her yard and advises me to do the same with my  honeysuckle.  She says now is the best time of year to get rid of what she terms “invasive” plants. Actually I think her ground cover is pretty, and I love my honeysuckle, particularly the bush honeysuckle. It has not only pretty flowers, but bright red berries in winter when so little else gives any color to the garden. The birds seem to like it, too. Though it’s true I have more each year, in a way that makes gardening easier. What is your opinion?

Happy with Honeysuckle on Hamilton Street

- MISS FLORIBUNDA -

– MISS FLORIBUNDA –

Dear Happy with Honeysuckle,

While it is true that birds like the berries on bush honeysuckle, this plant is also a favorite of ticks carrying Lyme disease. (So is Japanese barberry, by the way.) Birds will eat and efficiently spread seeds from the berries of both plants. Once deer and other animals carrying the tick come in contact with the plants, the ticks find a continuing harbor within the plant host – vastly increasing your chance of coming in contact with the tick and the very serious disease it confers.

Lyme disease is greatly on the rise because many animals from wilder habitats, displaced by housing developments, have moved into our parks and gardens.  Although domestic pets can be vaccinated for Lyme disease, there’s no approved vaccines for humans at this time. You run considerable risk by keeping any plant that would increase your chance of contracting the disease.

I was brought to my senses early one morning a couple of winters ago when I heard a thunderous trampling sound behind me as I walked to my garage. I stopped in my tracks and a large doe whizzed by me. My first thought was that I had narrowly escaped being the subject of a silly song such as “Miss Floribunda Got Run Over By A Ruminant.” Then it occurred to me that Hyattsville was not quite as urban as I had imagined.   Now, while I haven’t seen any deer in my own yard since then, within yards of my home I have seen raccoons, a fox, and a hawk. Lately I hear tell of a wild turkey in the area.

As for English ivy, beautiful as it is, it is a tree assassin.  It has to be watched carefully and kept in bounds. Since the ground is no longer frozen, early spring is an ideal time to eradicate it and other plants that are termed “invasive” because given the chance, they will happily overstep their bounds to take over the territory of other species – usually smothering and killing them.

It is important to dig up these plants by the roots before they start their growing season. I hope you will take advantage of this time to eliminate your honeysuckle. Later in the year, you can replace it with equally lovely native plants that will attract birds and butterflies rather than Lyme ticks. I must add that native plants require little or no care.

My consultant Ranger Marc of the Maryland National-Capital Park and Planning Commission,who coordinates non-native invasive plant control for our county, suggests that to learn more about native and invasive plants, you attend the free nature tours in Magruder Park this year.  The first one of a series will take place on Saturday, March 16.  Also that day is the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society at 10 a.m. at the home of Heather Olsen, 4915 42nd Avenue, to which you are invited. Please address further questions to floribundav@gmail.com.

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