In the Kimmel gardens, we have many beautiful plants and insects that all work together to help create our beautiful environment. Many of the plants we enjoy are native to Nebraska and the surrounding prairie states. There are plenty of other beautiful and beneficial plants that we utilize that are not necessarily native, but still, make a beautiful addition to the landscape. However, some plants and insects are harmful to the landscape and are often called invasive species. These species can be plants, animals, insects, and other living things. We are currently fighting two of these invasive species at Kimmel in our garden as well as in the orchard.
The insect we are currently fighting against is the Japanese beetle. They originated in Japan and were accidentally brought into the United States and other countries as grubs, or baby beetles, through shipping. They are a landlocked species in Japan and pose no environmental threat because they have natural predators (animals that use them as a food source that keeps their population balanced). Those natural predators do not exist in other countries and likely would not survive in an unfamiliar climate. Japanese beetles eat leaves, flowers, and fruit of many plants and are not picky at all about their diet. Once they completely feed on one plant, they will quickly move on to the next and will continue this cycle of eating until the first frost. They can quickly devastate a crop which is why we must be so vigilant in the orchard. One way to keep Japanese beetles off of your plants is to treat them with Neem oil or a labeled insecticide as both will kill eggs and prevent future adults. The beetles can also be “tapped” off of plants into a bucket of soapy water which will trap the adults and kill them. This works well in small-scale gardens. In our orchards, we carefully spray insecticides to preserve our fruit crop. To prevent beetles next year, you can ensure your lawn is treated for grubs at the appropriate time of year.
In our Kimmel garden, we are also fighting an invasive grass called Elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum). It is a tall, thick, ornamental grass that grows in thick clumps reaching 10 feet tall and it has sharp grass blades and irritating “hairs” on the older stems, making summer removal difficult. The grass originated in Africa and was brought over as animal forage. It is very commonly fed to dairy cows in Saharan Africa and has been introduced in other tropical regions. Years after planting, we discovered that it is an invasive species and will take over the habitat of native species. It is hardy in both wet and drought conditions, making it hard to get rid of. We are currently digging it out of our garden and looking to replace it with more native and educational plants. The best way to remove it is to completely dig up the root system after the first hard freeze to ensure it cannot come back.
Most invasive species are brought over by accident, but will quickly take over and become a problem. It can be difficult to properly remove these invasive plants so it is important to always do your research before you plant something new in your garden. Always ask questions to learn more about the plants in your area and the best methods of caring for them.