Let’s pull together!

Stuck at home? Outdoor events cancelled? Feeling disconnected from your community? You’re not alone! Life is different under the Stay Home/Stay Healthy order. In order to slow the spread of COVID-19 we are all practicing social distancing. But it’s still ok to get outside for a walk around the neighborhood or to do some gardening.

Our Noxious Weed team has been working from home and our ability to do field work this Spring is limited. That means we need your help to protect our shared resources from noxious weeds! Can you help us track and control noxious weeds in your neighborhood or backyard? We’re all in this together. If we pull together we can make a big difference in the health of our environment and communities.

Here’s how you can get involved:

Going on a walk around the neighborhood? You can help us survey for noxious weeds! Download the King County Connect app on your smartphone and you can send us the exact location of weeds you find on our most wanted list. You can even make a game out of it and take along our Noxious Weeds BINGO sheet. Can you find them all?

Can’t go out or would rather stay inside? Curl up with our Noxious Weeds Coloring Book.

Another way to help is to control the weeds in your backyard or community space. Weeds don’t respect property lines so the weeds on your property could be spreading to your neighbors or into a nearby natural area. But don’t despair! Weed control is possible even if you can’t do it all at once. Not only will you have a sense of satisfaction from helping protect the environment, but spending time gardening (including pulling weeds) has been proven to lower stress and improve physical as well as mental health.

Here are some common weeds that you just might have outside right now.

English Ivy was planted in lots of gardens in Washington. The evergreen vine grows and spreads very quickly and can even grow in the shade. These qualities that people liked are the same reasons it is such a problematic weed. Ivy doesn’t stay where it’s planted. Birds eat the black berries, which are poisonous to people, and spread seedlings. In a natural area, ivy will quickly smother all the plants in the understory. Then it starts growing up trees.

English ivy smothers trees and can lead to early death (photo by Karen Peterson)

The vines can grow up to 90 feet long; they make trees sick, prone to rot and more likely to blow over in a windstorm. Plus rats (and other rodents that carry disease) love making their homes in the dense vegetation.

Rat habitat anyone? (“PEEK-A-BOO” by Simon Wood is licensed by CC 2.0)

Some folks have planted ivy on slopes hoping it will provide erosion control. But, ivy roots only go a few inches deep and don’t do a good job holding onto the soil. So ivy can actually make slopes more likely to fail. But those puny roots also mean that you can pull ivy out with your bare hands! (Always wear gloves) Early spring is a great time to pull ivy since the soil is still nice and loose from winter rains.

If ivy has climbed up your tree, you don’t need to pull it all down right away. Make your tree a life ring! Go around the trunk and cut all of the ivy stems and then pull the lower ivy away from the tree, making about a 6 foot cleared ring around the base. The ivy needs to have roots in the ground to survive, so the upper ivy will die and dry out, making it much easier to pull down.

Cut ivy stems going up a tree will die and be easier to pull off. Just be sure to pull those vines on the ground too so they don’t start climbing back up!

Himalayan blackberry is one of the most recognizable weeds in the Pacific Northwest. It was originally planted for its delicious berries, but the plants almost immediately jumped garden fences and headed into natural areas. Once this plant gets established it can be a real pain!


It grows into dense, thorny thickets up to 15 feet tall. This makes it very difficult for animals (including humans) to move through. When blackberry takes over the understory of forests the thickets shade out native tree seedlings and prevent them from growing. Blackberry is common along streambanks, which can cause erosion and damage salmon habitat.

Blackberry can take over streambanks (“Urban Kokanee Streams” by USFWS – Pacific Region is under license by CC 2.0)

Blackberry spreads by its canes that can root every place they touch the ground and also spreads by seed (humans aren’t the only animals eating those tasty berries in the summer). Digging out seedlings when you first notice them is the easiest way to control this plant. Once it is well-established digging plants out is effective, but very labor-intensive.

If you’re digging out blackberry make sure you remove the root crown (drawing-blackberry-growth-dpi.vic.gov.au-agriculture)

Some people have good luck by repeatedly mowing blackberries with machinery… or goats! Over time this will weaken the plants and at least leave you with fewer to dig out. Although blackberry damages our environment and reduces habitat for many animals, some birds use the thickets as a place to build their nests. If you see birds visiting your blackberry thickets, you might want to avoid controlling the blackberry during nesting season from April 1 – August 15, or just control the smaller patches around the edges. Replacing the blackberry with native plants will attract native birds and will help discourage the weeds from coming back.

Goats make cute mowers! (The Buffet by floodllama is licensed by CC2.0)

Another way we can all protect the health of our communities and environment is by looking out for and getting rid of poison-hemlock. It’s in the carrot family and looks kind of like a wild carrot, especially when young. But, every part of poison-hemlock is toxic and can even be deadly if eaten by people or animals.

Young poison-hemlock plants look like wild carrots

Mowing, weed-whacking or burning this plant is highly discouraged because the toxins can be released into the air and breathed in, making you very sick. Some people are sensitive to the sap and extensive contact can lead to the toxins being absorbed through the skin.

Poison-hemlock stems are hollow with red or purple blotches or spots and are not hairy

I know that all sounds pretty scary, but by taking a few simple precautions anyone can help control this plant. Always wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants or leggings. In soft soil you can often grab the stem at the base and pull up the long taproot (just like pulling out a carrot). Or you can dig the plants out making sure you get as much of that taproot as possible. When you’re done put the plants in a plastic bag and put in the trash, not the yard waste and definitely not your home compost. Poison-hemlock stems can stay toxic for up to 3 years, even when dried. If you see poison-hemlock growing on public land like a park or next to a road let us know about it!

Poison-hemlock gets tall, but it’s still easy to dig up (photo by Jeanette Jurgensen)

Right now little efforts by all of us can make a big difference. If we all pull together we can make our neighborhoods safe and healthy places for everyone to enjoy.

For more information on what to do with all those pulled weeds: Are your weeds piling up?

Poison-hemlock season is here

King County Noxious Weeds website 


  1. You can’t get the word out enough about English ivy. Evil when invasive weeds are sold in garden centers! I’ve been slowly (but thoroughly!!) removing it across our property and restoring a hillside that eroded, someone thought the ivy would hold it together. On the plus side, can’t say enough good things about ferns! Soon the primary ivy concern will be from neighboring yards and I’ve started talking to them.

    • We love having allies in the fight against ivy! Glad to hear your hard work is paying off. Thanks for spreading the word to your neighbors, all of us working together can make a big difference!

  2. we have English ivy that has been growing in our yard for years, I am continually trying to get rid of it and have been having a hard time the past few years as I’m not able to get out in the yard and do as much as I use too and my son was working very long hours up until he got laid off in February. The ivy has just gotten out of control. We need help with getting rid of it. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Sandra, ivy can get out of control quickly. Once social distancing measures are no longer in effect, getting a group of people together to do an ivy pull can be an effective way to deal with a large infestation. Sometimes neighbors have come together to pull the ivy on eachother’s property so they don’t keep passing the ivy back and forth.

  3. Hello, I’m Kathleen. There is a lovely large Eco-pond at 11919 SE 270th Street, Kent, WA 98030 in front of the Millennium Elementary School. There is Scotch Broom, ivy and knotweed growing there. The weeds need removed and the grass needs mowing. I don’t see many birds or ducks there. May be the water in the pond needs tested.

    Thank you.

    Kathleen Tice

    • Hi Kathleen, thank you for the comment and I’m sorry it took me so long to respond. I’m sorry to hear about all the weeds in the pond. I will look into who manages that pond and alert them to the weeds and possible water quality problems. Thank you!

  4. We have St. John’s wort that is out of control in my front, side, and back yard. They are so hard to pull and till. Do you have suggestions to get rid of it?

    • Hi Kristy, thanks for the question and I’m sorry it took me so long to answer. There is a common ornamental St. Johnswort that is used as a groundcover that I’m guessing you have. It is called creeping St. Johnswort (https://landscapeplants.oregonstate.edu/plants/hypericum-calycinum). If that’s the one you have, it will take some work to dig up the roots but that’s the most effective method. You definitely can’t do it by hand-pulling, you will need to get a shovel and someone with strong arms to dig it up. There are also other digging tools like claw mattocks that can be helpful to get some leverage to uproot it. This plant doesn’t spread by seed as far as I know but you do need to be thorough in removing all the creeping roots to really get rid of it. Best of luck!

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