Invasive plants alert goes out to gardeners

With gardening season quickly approaching, the Alberta Invasive Plants Council is asking green thumbs to help stop the spread of invasive plants across the province.

With gardening season quickly approaching, the Alberta Invasive Plants Council is asking green thumbs to help stop the spread of invasive plants across the province.

Don Battiste, AIPC program director, said the new Weed Wise Gardening brochure is the most significant undertaking the council has produced in its four-year history to educate the public on how they can help control non-native plants that sprout wide-ranging negative impacts.

“There’s a growing awareness among gardeners to be respectful to the environment,” he said, pointing to an increase in programs such as composting. “What we want to do is help gardeners add this to their awareness.”

With gardening season quickly approaching, the Alberta Invasive Plants Council is asking green thumbs to help stop the spread of invasive plants across the province.

The brochure provides a wealth of information to persuade gardeners to stop growing these problematic plants that have become commonplace in Albertan flower beds.

Battiste, who has a background in sustainable landscape design, pointed out the brochure also includes various plants with similar aesthetics that can replace the invasive options.

These 10 problem ornamentals – such as Himalayan balsam and purple loosestrife that Battiste said are common in Red Deer – highlighted in the brochure have long been revered for qualities such as beauty, hardiness and rapid growth.

But the council hopes the plants’ popularity will diminish as the brochure increases understanding on how they reproduce, areas they impact and harm they cause.

“They have wide-reaching impacts beyond your yard,” Battiste said. “They have so well adapted here that they’ve escaped gardens and aggressively invaded natural areas and grasslands.”

These plants, which all have Asian and European origins, arrived on Canadian soil by various means and are now threatening to displace native plants, Battiste explained.

“They not only exist, but they push out what is our natural heritage,” he said, adding they can also affect wildlife by altering habitat and, in some cases, being potentially poisonous.

Furthermore, Battiste said controlling the spread of invasive plants hurts the economy.

A report by The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on invasive alien plants states these species cost the agricultural community alone $2.2 billion nationwide every year. The financial impact is attributed to weed damage and weed control in crops and pastures.

“Education is key,” agreed Ken Lehman, parks planning and ecological specialist with the City of Red Deer. “Certainly, (the plants) have ecological impacts that then influence economic impact.”

The city department spends the six-month growing season tackling the spread of invasive plants around Red Deer.

But it too has compiled a top-10 list of alien plants on its website to educate Red Deer residents in an effort to lessen the impact of these species.

“Their choices could detrimentally impact the natural habitat,” Lehman said of gardeners. “They don’t know what they’re planting can escape and completely overtake a wetland.”

He used the example of the purple loosestrife, which is often considered beautiful, as having the ability to deplete a wetland and, therefore, hamper with natural wildlife habitats.

“When people speak of Red Deer, they speak of an amazing park system,” Lehman said. “If that’s not there, it would definitely effect the economy.”

The Weed Wise Gardening brochure is available to download at www.invasiveplants.ab.ca.