What’s the Problem With Phragmites?
The tall marsh reeds known as phragmites, with their feathery tops, can look lovely blowing in the breeze. But these plants are one of the most invasive plants in our area, and left on their own they will spread, crowd out and eliminate native plants so important to birds, animals and insects.
Phragmites spread rapidly — partially through their seedy plumes, but also through their underground roots called rhizomes. The plant sends its rhizomes yards and yards away searching for more places to grow, and even small broken bits of that rhizome can develop into a new plant. The northeast, including our part of Putnam County, is now densely covered in phragmites.
What’s the problem? They look so pretty! Well, phragmites grow so densely, and so quickly, that soon no other plant can survive in the area. Plant diversity plummets. Very few animals, birds, or insects can use it for food or shelter, and so their numbers drop quickly when phragmites take over.
Both of us, Mary Ann and Francine, have spent time learning about and working to control phragmites on our lake properties. It’s not easy, but there are steps that we can take to decrease their spread. Right now, as spring arrives, is a great time to get started on containing this plant.
If phragmites are growing along the edge of your lakefront, now is the perfect time to drown them! The reedy stems are hollow, and if you can cut them below the water line, water will pour in and stop their growth. Do this before an area is again covered by the lake when the dam board goes back in ( usually mid April) and you will have good success.
For phragmites more inland, mowing or hand cutting the plants is the next way to stop the spread. This is ongoing, maybe even relentless, but it does control them. Keeping a pair of clippers down near your lake front and taking out life’s frustrations on these invasive plants can be very satisfying! Clean up the dense reeds to allow new plants to establish themselves.
If you want to dig them up, be very careful to gather and bag every bit of rhizome you see. Don’t compost the rhizomes. Put them safely in the trash, or perhaps add them carefully to an outdoor firepit. Please be careful not to let pieces of the rhizomes float away or the plant will establish itself on a new part of the lake.
When the phragmites in an area are somewhat controlled, it’s great to help the land diversify again by planting some native plants or shrubs.
Please take a look at the attached article and interesting video, and if you want to “talk phragmites”, we would both be interested in continuing this conversation!
Have a great Spring!
Mary Ann West (917) 853 6959
Francine Gerace (646) 232 3991
On Ash trees:
As a point of information, we had a gorgeous ash right next to our patio — huge, shady, great home to birds, chipmunks, and squirrels. A few years ago, the woodpeckers started to peck at it. For two years straight we had it treated — that cost several hundred dollars.
Then last year, Larry Reynolds told us that the time had come that if the tree deteriorated more, they could not climb it to cut the limbs one at a time. So we had to take it down. Sad sad sad.
This past spring we had 7 more ash trees taken down. More sadness, but according to two tree services (Larry and Sav-a-Tree), the trees weren’t going to get better. Four were close to the house, so we had no choice. One was by the lake, and we didn’t want it to fall in. Two were a little farther from the house, but the limbs might have reached us.
All that to say that we had no positive result with the treatment of the tree. The treatment didn’t even seem to slow down the deterioration. It seems that once the emerald ash borers are in there, they’re not coming out.
Long live the oaks and maples. . . .
– Elaine Unkeless Fall, 2021
We took down a dead ash tree, wish it could have been saved, but it was already gone.
I know a number of people who have done the same as we did.
– Nancy Ingram Fall, 2021