A man crouches to show off Japanese Knotweed

The stems of knotweed appear similar to bamboo. They are red to green in color, jointed, ridged and hollow. The stems survive only one season, but underground stems (rhizomes) distribute roots for years.

Q: I have a question for you that might be of interest to your readers. I have bamboo growing along the road at the edge of our house in Otis. I noticed it a couple of years ago. It's spreading somewhat quickly. Is there anything that we can do about it? 

— Ralph K., Otis

A: First, it isn’t bamboo, but rather Japanese knotweed or Japanese fleece flower, Mexican bamboo, depending on your location (Polygonum cuspidatum). It was introduced from Asia into North America in the latter part of the 1800s as an ornamental and sometimes to control erosion because of its deep woven roots.

The resemblance to bamboo comes from its semi-woody hollow stems. Its leaves are large and its flowers (just through blossoming in the Northeast) are a fleecy, clustery white.

When in Dalton we had a small, but ever enlarging patch of the weed, until I realized it would take over our yard and cut it back. Did some digging for roots, and kept it down with the lawnmower. It required mowing to keep in check for maybe five or six years before it gave up and I was able to replace it with a fern garden. (Another use of the space once free of knotweed is to convert it to a wildflower garden for butterflies and honeybees and other pollinators.)

Suggested ways for removal require some knowledge of its ability to live. It will grow entirely new plants from its roots (rhizomes) if carelessly cut, unless you want to cut and mow over and over for several years as I did, eventually starving it. The faster way is to dig up its entire root structure. And dispose of in black lawn disposal bags with rubbish or in your town’s compost project, if there be one. I can’t suggest chemical sprays.

Q: We [have] about six bluebird houses on the edge of our hayfield. Some bluebirds, some tree swallows and probably some others. Should I remove the nests in the houses? If so, when?

— Jonathan H.

A: Unless you have a reason to take down the houses, leave them through the year, there is really no reason I can think of for removal. With a dust mask and rubber gloves clean out each house. This can be done anytime following nesting. Leaving the houses may allow bluebirds and other small birds (for instance black-capped chickadees) from escaping the harsher winter nights. Bluebirds will sometimes roost in numbers in nesting boxes, not just one or two during the frigid winter nights. For several years I had a roosting box that I made and hung on a side of our shed that faced the east. This box, similar to a bluebird box had a slighter larger entrance, was a little larger than the normal bluebird houses, and placed lower than the usual height. As I recall it was placed five feet above the ground. And I had just enough 6 inches (actually 5 1/2 inches) rough pine board to make a box with the dimensions close to the one I just found on the internet at birdwatching-bliss.com/support-files/winter-bird-house-plans.pdf

There are other sites on the internet for making these winter use boxes, and some even suggest that the box can be converted in late February by reversing the entrance from bottom to top.

Why all the talk about bluebird houses? There was a time when there were plenty of farms, open land and fences that would rot and provide roosting and nesting locations for bluebirds, and trees with old cavities either from rot or abandoned woodpecker holes. Not so today. If most of us have an old tree showing rot, we have it removed and in doing so lessen the opportunity for a cozy home for a bluebird family.


COMMENTS:

“You may have already covered the topic of Asian jumping worms and I missed it, but if not it is time to do so. These worms are a scourge that have now infected the Berkshires. They multiply extremely rapidly, deplete the topsoil and there is no remedy to date. People need to be on guard and take precautions to avoid spreading them even farther."

— Terry, Stockbridge

My comment: I must not be keeping up with “my” worms, but after reading your email, I came across ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets/jumpingcrazysnake-worms-amynthas-spp

Apparently, there are none (yet) in my garden!

Saying so long to this season’s Monarchs

"[A] fourth generation monarch (Sept. 26) will be heading towards Mexico soon, yes?"

— Marina, Great Barrington

My comment: A photograph was included confirming, in a picture, what additional words would have taken. Yes, they are about finished converting to flight mode for this year. The monarch is a hardy butterfly, and I won’t worry about them for a while later. A week ago I noticed a dozen or so flying sort of south as I worked cleaning up the vegetable garden, or at least those plants that have given up.

“I just wanted to check in with you again on monarch sightings. My wife and I have seen at least one every day here in our backyard in Great Barrington. That includes one this morning. What we have not seen is two at the same time, which we always have in past years. We hope other people are seeing them, too. Thanks for helping us all to keep track."

— Kevin K., Great Barrington

"On Oct. 3, I was mowing and noticed several monarchs flying by, more than I usually see at the same time."

– Sid, Adams

“Monarch butterflies are leaving Bennington, Vt. We saw several and later that day in our field, about six. It is so nice seeing more than just one or two."

— Maria, Pownal, Vt.

"We no longer have any monarch chrysalises in the vicinity of the milkweeds. They have all grown into butterflies and begun the trip into Mexico." 

— Sandra E., Hinsdale

Thom Smith, NatureWatch columnist, can be reached by emailat Naturewatch41@gmail.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.