Nathan Johnson, Director of Public Lands, March 1, 2018
WHY IT’S BAD
Wintercreeper. It’s one of the most problematic non-native invasive plants in the central Ohio region. Look around any residential neighborhood, and you will likely see it. Though it originated in China and East Asia, it was imported to North America in 1907 as an ornamental ground cover. It is still commonly sold in Ohio, especially cultivated variants.
Admittedly, it can be visually appealing. It stays green all year, even in the dead of winter. But, don’t let the visual appeal fool you. Wintercreeper is highly aggressive. As a creeping vine with an astonishingly fast growth rate, it can quickly take over everything in its path. It grows in dense mats that smother other plants, and it leaches the nutrients and moisture from the soil. Frequently, all that’s left in an invaded area is a wasteland of wintercreeper — no herbs, flowers, or native plants can grow. Even tree seedlings are unable to establish themselves.
While wintercreeper is a real pain to remove from backyard fence lines and the like, it’s all the more troublesome in woodland settings. Wintercreeper grows just fine in dense shade, leaving woodlots and public forests especially susceptible to invasion. Its vines also climb vertically, and will even overtop and kill tall trees. Case in point: the small Columbus-area village I call home contains a handful of private woodlots and several acres of municipal forest. Each of these little oases of nature is smothered by wintercreeper.
HOW TO IDENTIFY
Remains green year-round. Dense ground cover and climbing vine. Can assume a shrubby form of approximately 3-feet in height. Commonly climbs and overruns fences and trees. Sets bright orange seed once it attains height in a sunny location (say, on a fence or tree). Seed is readily dispersed by birds, although it’s fast growth rate allows it to quickly cover large areas just by “creeping.”
HOW TO ELIMINATE
Elimination is not easy, and it’s not fun. I know from personal experience. I’ve spent many a sweltering summer day ripping this stuff out of my back yard. It grows very thick and has a web of roots hidden under the soil. While you can set it back substantially by removing the above-ground portions, you really do have to get it all to completely stop it. If some of the root stays buried, it will resprout to creep another day.
I’ve found that you can remove the majority of a backyard infestation in a few goes, but that some annual and/or seasonal maintenance is necessary to keep the leftovers and resprouts in check. I’ve also learned that this plant is much easier to remove when the ground is wet. Large mats can be pulled up relatively easily from wet or muddy soil. Early spring or late fall are probably the best times to pull. Be sure to completely remove the pulled vines from the area by bagging or curbing for yard waste pickup. Alternatively, I’ve found that the dried vines burn like rocket fuel in the backyard firepit.
That said, fire does little to control the live plant. Wintercreeper is also somewhat resistant to herbicides, and hand pulling is probably the best method of removal in all but the most expansive infestations.
Lastly, don’t plant this stuff intentionally. It might look nice, but it’s obnoxious, and its destroying woodland wildlife habitat throughout central Ohio.