Garlic Mustard Plant

A couple or so weeks ago I spotted a really pretty plant in my backyard, side yard and basically all around the yard (1/2 acre)– here and there and in large clusters. Hmmm … if I didn’t know any better, this has to be a weed, I said to myself.

So, I set out to pull this weed. The task was quite overwhelming. The plant pulls out quite easily, especially in the wet Minnesota weather that we’ve been having, but there is so much it.

My husband thought I should let this pretty plant grow wild but my gut told me differently.  One evening, while we were watching the evening news, a segment on an invasive noxious weed was being talked about. And guess what it was? Yup. The plant I had been pulling up that was all pretty looking was an invasive plant called the garlic mustard plant.

I’ve learned so much about this plant in the past three weeks but I was glad that I learned it early on.

Last year I had pulled some of these plants out on the west side of the house but they were the stalks and not yet mature. Surprisingly, most of those plants didn’t return so I must have caught them right on time — before they dropped their seeds which is quite important.

The plant is considered biennial. It comes up as a really pretty rosette (circles of leaves all the same height) and they have about 3-8 rounded kidney-shaped leaves. The plants can stay green all winter.

Once the plant “grows up” (matures) in the second year, it becomes stalk-like and produces a pretty cluster of white flowers — each with four petals. Shortly after this, seed pods form and they look like tiny green beans. These pods hold dozens of seeds that fall to the ground and, you guessed it, make many more plants, uh, weeds.

These seeds can be spread throughout the property by a person or animal walking through and transporting it on their shoes or paws.

Some seeds have been known to remain dormant from 5 to 10 years. Can anyone say ugh?

This is what my property looked like when I started the weed pulling …

Field of Garlic Mustard Weeds
Field of Garlic Mustard Weeds

Here’s another area of the same plant, uh, weed.

Field of Garlic Mustard Weeds
Field of Garlic Mustard Weeds

Fortunately for me, all the plants I pulled up did not have any pods yet. I must’ve pulled 15 large trash bags of weeds.

One mistake I made was pulling the weeds and laying them on the ground so I could gather them later since it started to rain. Unfortunately, the plant — really, should I call it a plant? — can continue growing while lying on the ground and seeds can fall to the ground while it lies there.

Since we use well water on our property, I’ve chosen not to use Roundup, a weed killer, that will knock it out quickly (although you have to make sure you spray all the leaves). The weed killer that must be used needs to have 2% glyphosate in it in order to be effective. If one is going to use a weed killer, they should do a spot application in early spring or late fall when the native plants are dormant (so you don’t kill everything else also).

Oh — a friend suggested I try spraying the plant with vinegar instead of with Roundup. Has anyone ever tried that?

It is very important to remove this weed because they produce a chemical that has been shown to inhibit the growth of other native plants.

It is possible to halt the infestation of the garlic mustard plant if it’s pulled out by the roots before the seeds set. Monitoring the area after you pull the plants out for additional weeds is very important as it could take several years to completely wipe it out.

Also, adding native plants to the area can help to crowd it out if you don’t have a large infestation but you still need to pull ANY garlic mustard plants that pop up or they will take over.

Recently I walked our property and found more immature stalks growing along with the first year plants. I will be using roundup on the first year plants since they are few and far between (so far) and won’t take too long to spray.

Unfortunately, next year I’ll have my work cut out for me again because the two neighbors uphill have large infestations that are heading my way.

Two other important things to remember:

1)  The plant is not supposed to be composted although when I checked with my garbage disposal company they told me to put it in the garbage or in the yard waste container. Do you suppose they don’t realize the problem? It is possible for the seeds to live through the composting process.

2) The plant is edible, or so I hear. No, I haven’t eaten it and I would strongly recommend that anyone check this out thoroughly before they put this plant in their mouth.

Here are a few other articles you might want to read regarding this plant:

If you have had any success in removing this plant from your property and there is anything you wish to add, I encourage you to comment.

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