Sunday, July 19, 2009

Preparing for a Battle in the Air Potato War!

The bane of every gardener is invasives. Some people call them weeds. A weed is just a plant in the wrong place. While this is also true of invasives, the definition goes much farther. Click here for a wonderful site about Invasive plants. The bane of my garden is Air Potato . It's so bad in Florida that every January many groups get together to do some form of "potato pickup" complete with competitions to see the oddest shape potato or the largest or the most potatoes collected! Luckily here in Central Florida it gets cold enough in the winters that the AP vine dies back a bit. But even with diligent potato pick up, by mid-summer, with the rains and long sunny days, the dreaded vine has taken over. So today I head out to do an AP decimation.

I start by donning the uniform for serious vine-pulling in Florida: Long, lightweight slacks tucked into socks, horse-mucking shoes (steel toed, waterproof), gloves, mask, hat, knee pads and sunscreen on all exposed skin. I also keep my house keys around my neck and my cell phone in a deep pocket. The hat is required to shade your face and hit the spider webs before your face does! I recommend an old stocking knotted to make a skull cap to keep bugs out of the hair too! The mask is required because of all the mold, fungi, tiny critters that live in FL soil. Without a deep freeze, nothing in our soil dies back. This may seem crazy to gardeners in other areas, but believe me, in Central Florida and south, it's necessary. It doesn't hurt to neti after weeding or mowing too, but that's the subject of another post! The pants are tucked into the socks, again to keep critters from getting to me. Under my pink cotton socks I wear a pair of bamboo socks for wicking sweat away from my skin. The cell phone serves two purposes: the obvious, in case I need to call for help, and the second is to set an alarm. I cannot stay out in July Florida heat, exerting myself for more that one hour at a time. The alarm keeps me from over doing it.

Once dressed, it's time to start pulling. Pulling, cutting, digging out the vine the best you can, always remembering that even a tiny piece left on the ground will grow! I try to catch them as soon as the leaves form and the potato is wasted. The smaller the potato, the better chance it will die. I've put Air potatoes in a black plastic garbage bag, into the corner of the dark garage and 3 months later found a vine coming out of the bag. They do not die easily. One way to kill them is to go out at dusk (wear mosquito gear!) and cut a vine near as possible to the ground, paint both cut ends with Round-up (glyphosate) using a tiny paint brush. It's a royal pain to do this, but the one time I did it, it worked wonders. In 24 hours both ends are completely dead. It has to be done at dusk since that is when the plant will "suck" the poison down. Now I'm no scientist, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that statement, but it did work. Like I said, it was a pain lugging a small vile of roundup with brushes and a pair of scissors around under the azaleas but the results were worth it.

one hour later, the spoils of war:
And here are the before and after photos for comparison. Obviously there is a lot more to do! At least you can see the bench and the small tree now!

In one week I'll do it all again, since every single leaf or piece of vine I missed, will root itself and start again. Also many of the vines in the trees will be dead since I cut them off. Of course not so much as long as it keeps raining. This is way the cold dry winter is the best time to irradiate this nasty vine.

Odd fact: Air Potato gives off a chemical in the soil that inhibits other plants from growing! (The things you learn judging a Science Fair!)

Next week we'll work on the South front where the Elephant ears, Rain trees and Air Potato have formed an axis of evil in my yard!