Good Oak News

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Vegetation Management Along Starkweather Creek

Background on the Stream Corridor Restoration

Starting in the spring of 2016, Good Oak has been working with the City of Madison Engineering division on a “vegetation management” project. What this really entails is rescuing a stretch of stream shoreline that has become overcome with invasive plants just a few years after a major shoreline reconstruction project.
The section of Starkweather Creek in question runs from Commercial Avenue on the north end down to Milwaukee Avenue on the south. In the middle is the busy East Washington Avenue corridor. In 2008 the City initiated work along shoreline of the creek here to stabilize the shoreline and provide an aesthetic improvement to a scruffy-looking part of the creek.
Prairie is the ideal plant community to establish along these stream corridors. The deep, diverse roots of prairie plants do an excellent job holding the soil, preventing erosion and stabilizing the entire shoreline soil mass. The roots, stems and leaves of the prairie plants capture inflowing water, slowing it down and helping to filter out silt, nutrients and other pollutants that might otherwise flow into the creek. The prairie wildflowers provide nectar and pollen for pollinators, and other parts of these plants are the natural food for many beneficial insects, birds and other creatures. Finally, a well-managed prairie is a beautiful sight, with tall native grasses and a variety of wildflowers blooming throughout the growing season, and who’s structure provides winter interest as well.
Establishing a healthy natural community, in a previously weedy area that has recently had heavy equipment operating in it, is no easy task. Prairie seed was spread in the vegetative corridor on either side of the creek in 2008, but the innumerable invasive plants and seeds that were already established on the site quickly overwhelmed the prairie seedlings. Despite efforts in the years following to suppress weeds in this area, by the spring of 2016 invasive plants dominated this entire stream corridor.

Ecological Dead End

When evaluating the site in the early spring of 2016, I estimated that exotic invasive plants cover roughly 90% of the vegetative buffer area.
Reed canary grass along the Starkweather Creek north of the project area.

The most abundant invasive plant in the project area, by far, is reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea). It probably accounted for 80-85% of the plant cover, all by itself, when we started work this spring. Reed canary grass is the most destructive invasive plant in the midwest. According to the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay Herbarium, reed canary grass is “the worst invasive species in Wisconsin, to date” having destroyed more native plant cover than any other invasive species in the state, and throughout the Midwest.
It can spread rapidly by both rhizomes and seed and aggressively displace native plants in wet and moist sites and along shorelines. It is particularly aggressive in disturbed sites, sites with high water/soil nutrient and silt loads, and fluctuating water levels... all of which are the case with Starkweather Creek. It is poor at erosion control because its shallow and coarse root system are easily undercut, not a desirable trait for a shoreline stabilization project.

Canada thistle is a difficult weed to control.

There are many other invasive plants in this area including: Kentucky bluegrass, quack grass, brome grass, orchard grass, fescue, garlic mustard, great burdock, Canada thistle, plumeless thistle, sweet clover, and wild carrot. In addition to these exotic weeds, Canada goldenrod also has a significant cover. This species is native, and its yellow early-fall flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. However, it is a very aggressive species that can form monocultures that exclude other plants, particularly in disturbed sites and young prairie plantings.

Though native to Wisconsin, Canada goldenrod can spread aggressively and exclude other plants.

A Plan for Restoration

    Control of reed canary grass is extremely difficult. Mowing and burning can weaken the plants, but a herbicide application is necessary to kill the roots. Even when herbicide is applied, reed canary grass readily resprouts from dormant buds. If live plants are killed off after multiple herbicide applications, new seedlings will emerge from the seedbank. Therefore, multiple years of treatment are needed to eradicate reed canary grass from any site.
In early summer 2016, we began managing reed canary grass by mowing during their blooming period to weaken the plants and to prevent them to from developing seeds. We also spot-herbicided broadleaf weeds and removed invasive brush during several trips in late-spring and summer. Due to the wet and warm growing season we had, we needed to mow the reed canary grass again in August to set it back further. We also mowed the Canada goldenrod at this time.
Thought there is still a long road ahead, we’re beginning to see positive results from our weed management work: Patches of prairie grasses such as big bluestem and indian grass are waving their seed-heads high this fall. Several prairie flowers managed to bloom this summer including the yellow, black-eyed Susans and false sunflowers, as did some hoary vervain, purple coneflower, marsh milkweeds and New England asters.

marsh milkweed

hoary vervain

false sunflower

black-eyed Susan

New England aster

We’re now gearing of for what will be a substantial herbicide application to this reed canary grass. By waiting until late-fall, we can avoid accidentally harming native plants in the area which have largely gone dormant for the season, but effectively treat the reed canary grass which is still green and growing in mid-November… especially during this unusually warm fall. So, in the near future now you will see a whole lot of blue dye in the Starkweather Creek corridor, a marker we add to our herbicide so we can see where it has been sprayed.

A Few Words about Pesticide Application

The herbicide we are using to control reed canary grass is called AquaNeat. AquaNeat is a special, “aquatic-approved” formulation with the active ingredient is glyphosate. Glyphosate has been tested to be “low to very low toxicity” to animals, it has been described as being roughly as toxic as table salt. In warm conditions, it can break down completely within two weeks (it will no doubt take longer to break down in November and into winter). It binds well to clay particles in the soil so it has a low likelihood of being washed into the stream or into our lakes.
We only use as much herbicide as is necessary to kill the invasive plants that we are targeting, being careful to avoid overspray onto other plants and elsewhere in the surroundings. Everyone on our Good Oak field crew is license to apply herbicide in Wisconsin, and we all practice a variety of safety techniques to limit exposure to ourselves and the environment.
Due the abundance of caution we practice with any pesticide, we’d recommend staying out of the area until the blue dye is no longer visible. The dye is more persistent than the herbicide itself, so the lack of visible dye should indicate there is no longer any herbicide present. If you do find blue dye on yourself, your clothes, or your pet, simply wash with soap and water to remove.

2017, and Beyond

While 2016 has focused on weed control, 2017 should see the site less dominated by the worst invasive plants… but then what? Early in 2017 we’re again planning an herbicide application to reed canary grass and broadleaf weeds. Then we need to observe the site and see how the vegetation is reacting. Will other invasive plants sprout to take the place of the weeds we are controlling? Will native plants that have been suppressed by the weeds grow with more vigor? Will new prairie seedlings sprout from dormant seeds?
Mostly likely, all of these things will occur, and more. While the majority of the herbicide application will be behind us, in 2017 and 2018 we’ll be spot herbiciding, mowing, pulling and doing other work to control the well established weed populations, and prevent new ones from sprouting. We’ll be spreading additional prairie, savanna and wetland seed in either the spring or fall of 2017, once we feel enough of the invasive plants have been suppressed that new prairie seedlings will have a good chance of getting established. We’d love to get help from volunteers as the project moves forward, doing more planting of prairie wildflowers and maybe even weed pulling.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Brush Clearing Time Lapse

Here's a time laps video of a day's worth of brush clearing work from early last winter.  We're professional land managers, not professional videographers, so I'd say it turned out pretty well:

Monday, October 17, 2016

Job Openings at Good Oak!

We're looking to fill a few positions here at Good Oak.

We're looking to build up our team for the season, hiring for our Ecological Restoration and Sustainable Landscaping Technician position. This is our general get it done on the ground position, working both in natural areas and residential/commercial landscaping sites.

We're also announcing our Winter Brush Clearing Internship. We're looking for college students that want to learn a lot about native plants, ecological restoration and sustainable landscaping. Our winter internship starts in early-December, and applications are due soon, so don't wait!

For more information see our Employment web page.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Good Oak is having its second Native Plant Sale this Friday, June 10th from 3pm to 7pm at our Stewardship Center at 4606 Pflaum Rd. in Madison (under the big “A-Quality Printing” sign). Be sure to stop by because this will be the final plant sale of the spring.

We've added even more plants to our already great selection! There will be over 60 species of native plants available, with a focus on flowering native perennials which are pollinator favorites. Our expert staff will be on hand to help you pick the right plants and give you landscaping advice. You’ll also be able to set up custom orders of native trees, shrubs and other species we don’t have on-hand at the time.

For more information and a species list, see our Plant Sale web page.

During the sale, we’ll be offering 10% off of our entire selection of books and tools. Pre-browse on our webstore.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Good Oak is having its first Native Plant Sale, this Saturday, May 21st from 8am to 4pm at our Stewardship Center at 4606 Pflaum Rd. in Madison (under the big “A-Quality Printing” sign).

We will have about 45 over 50 species of native plants available, with a focus on flowering native perennials which are pollinator favorites. Our expert staff will be on hand to help you pick the right plants and give you landscaping advice. You’ll also be able to set up custom orders of native trees, shrubs and other species we don’t have on-hand at the time.

For more information and a species list, see our Plant Sale web page.

During the sale, we’ll be offering 10% off of our entire selection of books and tools. Pre-browse on our webstore.

We’ll have a second plant sale date in early-June. Date TBD.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fig Buttercup: A New Invader to Look Out For!

I See Weeds...

I must of have looked pretty odd to anyone passing by. This past Saturday I was the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago with my daughter. We were in front of the snow leopard pen, and this rare cat was active and just a few feet away. I had my camera out, but instead of taking a picture of the fine feline, I had my camera pointed down at the ground. I was taking a picture of this:

Most people wouldn't even notice the plants on the ground in front of the snow leopard. If they did, they would probably have simply assumed these were violets or creeping charlie and not paid any attention. But as a botanist, I notice plants and I had seen this plant before. Its not good.

This is a large colony of fig buttercup, also called lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria, (formerly Ficaria verna)). In Illinois where I found this plant its listed on the New Invaders Watch Program and has recently been listed as a Noxious Weed by the State. 

In Wisconsin, it is a Prohibited invasive plant listed under the NR-40 Invasive Species Rule. This means that within Wisconsin you "cannot transport, possess, transfer or introduce" this species and that "Control is required." Wherever it is found.

There are only a few reported populations of fig buttercup in Wisconsin at the moment and its the DNR's intention to keep it that way. There are two populations near Lake Geneva. Two in the Milwaukee area. And we here at Good Oak know of two in the Madison area. One we treated at Eagle Heights on the west side of the UW campus last year (which had started to spread into the woodland at the Lakeshore Preserve!). And this Tuesday we discovered a new population, at a condominium complex near Old Middleton and Old Sauk Road on Madison's west side.

Report Fig Buttercup if you find it!

The DNR needs our help finding and eliminating any populations. If you do find this species, report it by emailing

So far we've been finding them in semi-shady sites, where perennials have been planted at some point. I suspect its being moved around as people share plants. At the Eagle Heights site it looks like it may have spread into the lawn from an abandoned edge bed. At the condominium complex, it was mixed among many "ornamental" ground covers, plants that I consider invasive like vinca (periwinkle" pachysandra, Lamium (purple deadnettle). In particular it was well mixed in with one patch of pachysandra, so I suspect it was dug from another site and accidentally moved with the pachysandra, but it has spread throughout the area, so it may have been moved there intentionally on its own.


Here are some photos I've taken of this species to help with identification. It looks a lot like early buttercup or small-flowered buttercup (which will be individual plants, not forming colonies, and only 5 petals on the flower), or marsh marigolds (which only grows in wetlands), or even common violets (which have entirely different flowers and pointed tips on the leaves). I've also noticed some variegation (lighter patches) on the leaf surfaces. Its leaves are never more than 6" tall, it has multi-petaled yellow flowers that bloom in mid-spring. Control is most effective before it flowers.

This is what it looks like early in the season, late-March 2016.

This photo was taken late in the blooming period, late-April.

This flower was getting a bit old, so the petals are more spread out and the white patches are where it has faded a little.
UPDATE: I've created a Weed Identification and Control Sheet for Fig Buttercup. Take a look, and share!

In the mean time, you can find more information at these sites:

Control Methods:

A spot herbicide application of glyphosate (Round-Up®, etc.) at 1.5% active ingredient appears to be the most effective chemical control method, and glyphosate breaks down fairly quickly in the environment, so its relatively safe to use. However, if you want to try to avoid killing neighboring grasses, you can try triclopyr (Garlon® 3A, etc.) This is proving to be less effective, so multiple treatments will be needed. Spraying early in the season, late-March or early-April, well before the plant flowers, appears to be the best timing for maximum control.

Digging may not be particularly effective since the roots are a series of bulb-like structures that would break apart pretty easily, leaving some behind. So, dig carefully and be thorough. You'll need to destroy the plants you dig in fire, or double-bag the entire root and soil mass in sturdy trash bags and put it into the trash.

Remember to report your population the the WI DNR, and carefully monitor the area for several years after treatment and eliminate any survivors.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

2016 Stewardship Seminars: Managing Weeds and Invasive Plants Series

We're excited to announce that as part of our expanded Land Stewardship Center we'll be offering three seminar series on ecological restoration and sustainable landscaping this spring. These series are going to give us enough time to cover each topic in the detail they deserve, teaching folks how to "save the plant" on their own property.

 The first series is coming up next Wednesday!  

 Managing Weeds and Invasive Plants Series

I've given presentations on invasive plant management many times, and never have enough time to really 'get into the weeds' so to speak. By breaking this topic down into 4 classes we'll have up to 8 hours (!) we'll have plenty of time to talk about all the common weeds and invasive plants of each type, and comp up with individualized plans for the weeds attendees are dealing with on their own property. Here are how we're breaking down this topic: 

   1.  Invasive Brush & Weedy Trees - 7pm, Wed. 03/02/16
   2.  Woodland & Shady Area Weeds - 7pm, Wed. 03/09/16
   3.  Prairie & Sunny Area Weeds - 7pm, Wed. 03/23/16
   4.  Landscape & Urban Weeds - 7pm, Wed. 03/30/16

All classes run from 7:00pm-9:00pm.
$15/class OR $13/class if you register for the entire series. 

To Register: email us, call us at 608-209-0607 or stop in at our Land Stewardship Center (4606 Pflaum Rd. in Madison)

For more information this and the rest of our series for this year, check out the 2016 Stewardship Seminars web page, or click on the flier below.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Want to Save the World?: Good Oak is Hiring

We're looking to fill a few positions here at Good Oak.

We're looking to build up our team for the season, hiring for our Ecological Restoration and Sustainable Landscaping Technician position. This is our general get it done on the ground position, working both in natural areas and residential/commercial landscaping sites.

We're also announcing our spring and summer internships. We're looking for college students that want to learn a lot about native plants, ecological restoration and sustainable landscaping. Our spring internship starts in early-March, and applications are due soon, so don't wait!

We're also looking for someone with a strong background in horticulture and landscaping for our Sustainable Landscaping Manager position. Please note that this is not a position focused on ecological restoration, and only those with strong a landscaping/horticultural background should apply.

Find out more at our new Employment page.

The Good Oak Team, summer 2015.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Beaver Blades Make Brush Cutting More Efficient

Winter is the time to clear invasive brush that chokes our woods. With snow or frozen ground, you're not going to do much damage treading on the soil and if carefully applied, herbicide will have no impact on the recovery of native flora.

I'd like to tell you about a product that we've been using for years now. Its been so revolutionary to how we work, I've kind-of tried to keep it a trade secret. But we love so much that we've decided to set ourselves up as a retailer, so we can share this product with our clients and other land managers in our region. They're now for sale in our online store, or our Land Stewardship Center at 4606 Pflaum Rd., Madison, WI.

The Beaver Blade is a replacement, and significant upgrade for those standard brush cutting blades that come with your "weed whip", "string trimmer", "brush cutter" or whatever you want to call it. It basically turns your brushcutter or heavy duty weed-eater into the best brush clearing tool available. Once you’ve used them, you’ll never go back to standard brush blades. We’ve been using them for our winter brush clearing work for over 6 years, and I really can’t recommend them highly enough. It improves on the standard blades that you get with your brushcutter in three important ways:
  1. It incorporates actual chain saw links into its design, meaning larger, stronger cutting teeth that are easier to sharpen. The chainsaw teeth allows for clearing the wood chips more easily and they also reduce resin build up. Both of these issues can slow the cutting ability of traditional brushcutter blades.
  2. These teeth are, in-fact, part of a loop of saw chain that runs around the circumference of the disk blade, and are not bound to the disk directly. This allows the chain to slide around the disk when substantial force is applied, acting as a clutch mechanism. This reduces jerking when you do get the blade pinched, or hit it against a hard object and also reduces vibration while cutting. This increases your safety, comfort and work endurance.
  3. The disk is made of heavy gauge steel. The mass of the disk acts as a fly wheel. It maintains momentum well and thus keeps the disk keeps spinning fast for high speed cutting. It can cut through stems up to 1.5" instantly, and quickly tears into of larger diameter stems.
The overall effect is that you can clear brush approximately 50% faster than with a standard brush blade with much reduced operator fatigue. You can easily cut large stems up to 3.5”, and can even tackle small trees up to 8” in diameter with a little care working on both sides of the trunk. But note that you largely loose the ability to directional fell when cutting around the perimeter of a larger tree truck with the Beaver Blade, so we make it a policy to cut "trees" larger than 4" in diameter.

The first rule of brush-cutting: Don't drop a tree on your boss (especially when he's holding an expensive camera). This is a good example of how you don't have much control where the "tree" falls when using a Beaver Blade, but at this size this buckthorn is not too heavy, and not too hazardous.

Beaver Blades are made in the USA with high quality steel and real saw chain. They can be sharpened with the common 3/16" chain saw file. Though they cut surprisingly well even when dull, they should be sharpened after 4-8 hours of use (assuming you haven't hit any rocks or the dirt) for maximum performance. When you wear the teeth down to nubs, you don't have to throw your Beaver Blade out! They can be outfitted with a new chain, a service we will be providing for about $35 (contact us directly for this service).

Brushcutters in general are better than chainsaws for brush clearing since you don’t need to bend over to make your cut. Just remember if you want to kill a decidious tree/shrub permanently, you will need to apply concentrated herbicide to  every stump that you cut, or it will resprout.

Apply herbicide to the stump carefully, its only needed around the circumference of the stem where the live cambium is. Additional herbicide application is wasteful, or worse: over-spray that could kill surrounding plants too.

The 8” Beaver Blade attaches to most mid-powered weed-eaters/brush cutters to high powered brush saws. It fits the most common 1” arbor size found on brush-cutters, and comes with an adaptor to work with 20mm arbors.
We use them with Stihl FS-130, FS-240 and FS-250 brushcutters, and they should work with any brushcutter of similar size or larger from Stihl or other brands. 

We've found that we've had to do some minor modification to fit it with the safety guard on our brushcutter; we need to file down the outside-bottom edge of our safety guard just about 1/8” for the Beaver Blade's teeth to clear, since the guard is designed for the thinner blades that Stihl produces).

Are you hard at work clearing brush to help restore our woodlands and prairies? Tell us what tools you like. We've managed to gather up our favorite cutting tools in our online store, take a look.