Volunteers Get Ready To Yank Garlic Mustard Weeds

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Around the country, it's the time of the year when people get together to pull garlic mustard from the ground. It's an invasive plant that spreads quickly and threatens native ecosystems. Jason Frenzel, an outreach coordinator for the Natural Area Preservation Unit in Ann Arbor, Mich., is leading a group of volunteers to yank the weeds from parks and woods on Saturday. He talks with Melissa Block about "Weed-Out Day."

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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It's high season for garlic mustard, an invasive weed that spreads like crazy. And that means it's also high season for garlic mustard pulls around the country - groups of volunteers heading out to parks and woods to get rid of the plants.

Jason Frenzel is coordinating a garlic mustard Weed-Out Day tomorrow in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And he joins us now.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. JASON FRENZEL (Outreach Coordinator, Natural Area Preservation Unit): Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And how much garlic mustard do you think you'll be pulling there?

Mr. FRENZEL: It's a bit of a competition in the southern tier of the state, so we try not to give up too much information. We've already pulled a good six or 7,000 pounds and we hope to double that.

BLOCK: Wow.

Mr. FRENZEL: But we're in competition with the western side of the state and we kind of want to keep our lips tight a little bit.

BLOCK: I didn't know this was a competitive sport.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRENZEL: No, it's fun.

BLOCK: Well, what does garlic mustard look like?

Mr. FRENZEL: Once it bolts, it gets about three to four feet tall. The leaves are roughly triangular with teeth on them, about one inch to two inches in width - in length, and then at the top of that is a seed stalk. The flowers are white, four petals, pretty easy to discern at this point in the year.

BLOCK: And is it the kind of thing that spreads so widely that a lot of folks listening to this probably have some in their backyard?

Mr. FRENZEL: Absolutely. There are accounts of it in about half of the states of the U.S. as far as Alaska, Georgia and Maine.

BLOCK: Now, why is garlic mustard considered to be such a problem?

Mr. FRENZEL: It doesn't have natural competitors or very few natural competitors. It was brought here by European settlers in the 1800s and the natural competitors are the diseases that would live on it and the things that predate the plant weren't brought with it or they don't survive here. And so it takes off and it lives on its own and it can outcompete other things because of those lack of predators.

And then also, as opposed to most of our native wildflowers, it stays green underneath the snow, so it has a competitive advantage early, early in the spring, so when the snow melts it just starts going well before our native wildflowers come up out of the ground.

BLOCK: Uh-huh. So when you go out this weekend for the weed-out, what are the techniques? What do you tell folks about how to get rid of garlic mustard?

Mr. FRENZEL: It's like weeding your garden but out in the woods. It's actually really fun and you commune with nature. You grab it by its root collar, right above the soil, and jiggle that root a little bit so that you can pull out the whole root. And then at this point, because the flowers are well in bloom and some of the seed pods are starting to develop, we remove it from the site.

BLOCK: Remove it from the site and then where does it go?

Mr. FRENZEL: Well, in Ann Arbor, we have a really nice properly functioning municipal compost system which will break down any of the seeds and turn them into compost. And so we send all of our invasives to the compost facility, but I would not recommend that in a backyard scenario. And so in other municipalities around the country, it's wiser to put it in the trash.

BLOCK: In other words, if you're doing it in your backyard, it might just sprout again?

Mr. FRENZEL: It certainly will. But once it's got good flowers on that, that flower head will rise back up to the sun and the root reserves that are still just sitting there will lead it to produce fruit just (unintelligible) outside of the dirt. It's an amazingly competitive plant.

BLOCK: Well, it sounds tempting. I mean, garlic mustard, sounds like there should be something you could do with it in the kitchen.

Mr. FRENZEL: Exactly, and that's the reason it was brought here by the European settlers. People eat both the leaves and the root. I've made garlic mustard pesto and garlic mustard chutney, which both use both of those components of the plant. It's rather bitter. If you like bitter greens, if you like really bitter greens, it's good in the salad. Must people cut it with more traditional vegetables, but it's a really good substitute for mustards as well as for garlic in a lot of recipes.

BLOCK: Well, Jason, good luck this weekend.

Mr. FRENZEL: Thanks so much.

BLOCK: That's Jason Frenzel with Ann Arbor's Natural Area Preservation Unit talking about the Garlic Mustard Weed-Out Day that he's coordinating tomorrow.

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