Hand Pulling Following Mowing and Herbicide Treatments Increases Control of Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea stoebe)

by Neil W. MacDonald, Laurelin M. Martin, Corey K. Kapolka, Timothy F. Botting, and Tami E. Brown
Published in 2013, Invasive Plant Science and Management: October-December, Vol 6:470–479


Extensive areas in the upper Midwest have been invaded by spotted knapweed, and effective management strategies are required to reestablish native plant communities. We examined effects of mowing, mowing plus clopyralid, or mowing plus glyphosate in factorial combination with hand pulling and burning on knapweed abundances on a knapweed-infested site in western Michigan. We applied mowing and herbicide treatments in summer 2008, and seeded all plots with native grasses and forbs in spring 2009. Without hand pulling, effects of mowing or mowing plus glyphosate were short-lived and

allowed knapweed to rapidly resurge. In comparison, although a single mowing plus clopyralid treatment maintained significantly reduced densities of knapweed for 4 yr, by 2012 knapweed biomass in the nonpulled clopyralid treatment was approximately 60% of that in the other nonpulled treatments. Burning had minimal impacts on knapweed densities regardless of treatment combination, probably as a result of low fire intensity. Results demonstrated that persistent hand pulling used as a follow-up to single mowing or mowing plus herbicide treatments can be an effective practice for treating isolated spotted knapweed infestations or for removing small numbers of knapweed that survive herbicide applications.

Management Implications

We studied the interactive effects of mowing, herbicides, hand pulling, and burning on spotted knapweed control in western Michigan. Effects of a single mowing or mowing plus glyphosate on spotted knapweed were short-lived. In contrast, a single application of mowing plus clopyralid maintained reduced knapweed densities for 4 yr after treatment. In the fourth year, however, knapweed biomass in the nonpulled mowed plus clopyralid treatment was approximately 60% of the other nonpulled treatments, evidence that knapweed was resurging in the clopyralid treatment as well. Contrary to expectations, there were minimal effects of a single spring burn on spotted knapweed densities, probably as a result of suboptimal season of burn and cool burn-day temperatures, which caused low fire intensity. In comparison to other treatments, hand pulling more effectively controlled all knapweed life stages after 3 yr of treatment. Initially, hand-pulling removals were greatest on mowed-only plots (44±7 m−2, mean±SE), increased in both clopyralid and glyphosate-treated plots in the second year as knapweed populations began to recover from herbicides, and then equalized at greatly reduced levels (0.6±0.1 m−2) across all mowing and herbicide treatments by the fourth year. Removing knapweed by hand requires a large investment of time, however, and this must be taken into account when planning strategies for restoring knapweed-infested sites. To be effective, hand pulling needs to be applied persistently in advance of seed dispersal over several years. Hand pulling can be an effective practice for treating relatively small knapweed infestations in areas being restored to native vegetation, or as a follow-up treatment after herbicides have been used to reduce large infestations. Hand pulling also provides a treatment option in natural areas where herbicides are restricted to prevent damage to native plants.