Invasive species are everywhere in the Chesapeake watershed, and the more you know, the more you can do to stop the negative effects associated with their spread. Some of these impacts include economic devastation — compromising the resources of local farms — and decreased biodiversity for the native wildlife and pollinators that are critical to the ecosystem. If you’re thinking about joining the fight, whether it be in your own space or the public spaces you like to frequent, read on for some tricks and tips to be as effective as you can be in this combined effort!

Do: research your problematic plant

There are plenty of different ways invasive species spread, and a control tactic that may work for one species may be unwise to use on another. Familiarize yourself with the management and maintenance techniques that are known to work for a specific invasive. One plant may spread by rhizomes (root systems), which requires a completely different removal technique than a plant that spreads through seed dispersal. Seek advice from a local or regional invasive species resource — a county or state extension service, a native plant nursery or even a garden club — to help you identify your problematic plant and determine how to control it. There are also a lot of great landscaping companies that specialize in invasive species removal.

Don’t: assume your work is done

Invasive species tend to stick around, even after a hard-fought, hard-won, initial battle to remove them. Maintenance plays an integral part in making sure they can’t find their way back into the space where you’ve worked so hard to banish them. Check back in those areas at key points during the year, according to the species, and continue to follow up and stymie their regrowth or reestablishment. Don’t worry though – the first battle is usually the biggest challenge!

Meagan Allyn of the Maryland Conservation Corps prepares an ash tree for an infusion of insecticide that will protect the tree from the invasive emerald ash borer for two to five years at Patapsco Valley State Park in Catonsville, Md., on May 26, 2016. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Do: familiarize yourself with the common invaders

I like to compare learning about a new invasive species to learning a new word. Once you learn a new word, you start to hear it everywhere. Similarly, once you can identify an invasive species, you begin to realize how ubiquitous it actually is. Given our growing awareness of invasive species, the usual suspects for your particular area will show up in a quick Google search. You can also look up your state’s most common invasives and familiarize yourself for when you’re out and about. If you live in an urban area, remember, there are still plenty of species forcing their way through sidewalk cracks and even used in landscaping.

Japanese barberry, a common landscaping shrub, lining the streets of my neighborhood in Lancaster, PA along with other invasive species like periwinkle and tree of heaven. Japanese barberry is particularly problematic, as its presence can increase the number of Lyme disease-carrying ticks wherever the plant is established. (Photo by John Montgomery/Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay)

Don’t: help the hitchhikers

There are quite a few easy steps you can take to be part of the solution, not the problem. If you have a boat, be sure to wash aquatic plant matter off the vessel before you bring it home, or to another body of water. If you fish and use live bait brought from elsewhere, don’t dump leftover bait in the water; take it with you and dispose of it where it can’t live on and compete with natives. After all, the Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, so if we water recreators commit to these simple steps, we can make a huge impact!

Volunteers with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources remove water chestnut floating among American lotus plants in the Sassafras River on the border between Cecil County and Kent County, Md., on July 14, 2010. Water chestnut floats freely on the water’s surface, but is attached to the bottom by long, thin roots. (Photo by Alicia Pimental/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Terrestrial explorers can take similar precautions when going from one natural area to another. To keep hitchhiking plants and insects to a minimum, always clean your shoes, clothes, bicycles, recreational vehicles, and pets’ paws before you move to a different location. If the trail you choose doesn’t have a boot brush installed at the trailhead (many do), you can always keep a handheld brush in your car and use it before and after hiking. When you’re camping, be sure to always buy locally sourced firewood, so as not to spread invasive tree insects and fungi.

Do: avoid exotic “pets”

If you don’t buy non-native aquarium pets — like goldfish, turtles, reptiles, etc. — you won’t be faced with the conundrum of what to do with them when they grow too big or otherwise overstay their welcome. Even something as seemingly harmless as a goldfish (an Asian species) or a non-native turtle can, and does, upset the natural balance when introduced to a new ecosystem.

Don’t: think you can’t make a difference

Now that you have identification skills, don’t ignore invasive species when you see them. If you see an invasive at one of your favorite recreation spots, it’s an easy call to your parks department or other organization managing that land. Better yet, you can join a network of volunteers who help in the mapping of invasive species — one example being iMapInvasives, operating in the northern parts of the Bay watershed. Look into what mapping applications are active in your area to help volunteers, scientists, and decision makers plot the best path to move forward regarding invasives.

There are plenty of volunteer opportunities to help organizations near you manage or remove a problematic species, or, most satisfying, to help with the restoration of a site after invaders have been vanquished. Look into invasive species volunteer events near you. If you’re more interested in managing your own space, do your research, do your maintenance, and consult a native plant resource like the Alliance’s Native Plant Center to choose some beautiful, effective native plants to help keep your environment more resilient and sustainable.