"Control Methods" excerpted from:

Ecology And Management Of Arundo donax, And Approaches To Riparian Habitat Restoration In Southern California.

Gary P. Bell
The Nature Conservancy of New Mexico, 212 E. Marcy Street, Suite 200, Santa Fe, NM 87501.

Citation for this paper:

Bell, G. 1997. Ecology and management of Arundo donax, and approaches to riparian habitat restoration in Southern California. In Brock, J. H., Wade, M., Pysek, P., and Green, D. (Eds.): Plant Invasions: Studies from North America and Europe. Blackhuys Publishers, Leiden, The Netherlands, pp. 103-113.


By far the greatest threat to the dwindling riparian resources of coastal southern California is the alien grass species known as Arundo donax. Over the last 25 years the riparian forests of coastal southern California have become infested with A. donax which has spread by flood-fragmentation and dispersal of vegetative propagules. Arundo donax dramatically alters the ecological/successional processes in riparian systems and ultimately moves most riparian habitats towards pure stands of this alien grass.

By current estimates there are tens of thousands of acres of A. donax along the major coastal drainage systems of southern California, including the Santa Ana, Santa Margarita, Ventura, Santa Clara, San Diego, and San Luis Rey rivers. The removal of A. donax from these systems provides numerous downstream benefits in terms of native species habitat, wildfire protection, water quantity and water quality.

Control Methods

A suite of methods is needed to control A. donax depending upon the presence or absence of native plants, the size of the stand, the amount of biomass which must be dealt with, the terrain, and the season.

The key to effective treatment of established A. donax is killing of the root mass. This requires treatment of the plant with systemic herbicide at appropriate times of the year to ensure translocation to the roots. Only one herbicide is currently labeled for wetlands use by the EPA; Rodeo®, a tradename formulation of glyphosate, produced by Monsanto Corporation. Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide which can be used on A. donax, Tamarix ramosissima (saltcedar), and most other monocots and dicots. It has proven very effective against A. donax (Finn and Minnesang 1990; Jackson 1994; USDA Forest Service 1993). Other herbicides might also be used as labels and conditions allow. Monocot-specific chemicals, such as Fusilade-DX® (fluazapop-butyl) and Post® (Sethoxidan), might be particularly useful for treating A. donax in stands with a substantial component of native dicots; however, neither is currently labeled for wetlands use.

The most effective treatment on A. donax is the foliar application of a two-to-five percent (2-5%) solution of Rodeo applied post-flowering and pre-dormancy at a rate of 0.5 to 1 L/hectare. During this period of time, usually mid-August to early November, the plants are actively translocating nutrients to the rootmass in preparation for winter dormancy which results in effective translocation of herbicide to the roots. Recent preliminary comparison trials on the Santa Margarita River (Omori. 1996) indicate that foliar application during the appropriate season results in almost 100% control, compared with only 5-50% control using cut-stem treatment. Two to three weeks after foliar treatment. treatment the leaves and stalks brown and soften creating an additional advantage in dealing with the biomass: cut green stems might take root if left on damp soil and are very difficult to cut and chip. Treated stems have little or no potential for rooting and are brittle. They may be left intact on the ground or chipped in situ for mulch.

Cut-stem treatment requires more time and man-power than foliar spraying and requires careful timing. Cut stems must be treated with concentrated herbicide within one to two minutes in order to ensure tissue uptake (Monsanto 1989). This treatment is also most effective post-flowering. The chief advantage of the cut-stem treatment is that it requires less herbicide that can be more-or-less surgically applied to the stem. Because of its reduced efficacy, and due to the labor required, it is rarely cheaper than foliar spraying except on very small, isolated patches or individual plants.

A popular approach to dealing with A. donax has been to cut the stalks and remove the biomass, wait three to six weeks for the plants to grow to about one meter tall, then apply a foliar spray of herbicide solution. The chief advantage of this approach is that less herbicide must be applied to treat the fresh growth compared with tall, established plants, and that coverage is often better because of the shorter and uniform-height plants. However, cutting of the stems may result in the plants returning to growth-phase, drawing nutrients from the rootmass. As a result there is less translocation of herbicide to the roots and less root-kill. Therefore many follow-up treatments must be made which negates any initial savings in herbicide and greatly increases the manpower costs.

Pure stands (>80% canopy cover) of A. donax or T. ramosissima are most efficiently treated by aerial application of an herbicide concentrate, usually by helicopter. Helicopter application can treat at least 50 hectares per day. Special spray apparatus produces extremely fine droplets (400 microns) of concentrated herbicide which actually reduces herbicide use, minimizes over-spray, and results in greater kill.

In areas where helicopter access is impossible, where A. donax makes up the understory, where patches are too small to make aerial application financially efficient, or where weeds are mixed with native plants (<80% cover), herbicides must be applied by hand. Street-vehicles with 400 liter spray tanks are a good alternative where road access is available, but small "quad-runner" vehicles equipped with 60 liter sprayers are the preferred approach where the streambed is not so rocky as to prevent access. Twenty liter backpack sprayers are the final alternative where the vegetation is too dense, or the landscape too rugged for vehicles to be effective.

Methods for vegetation removal include use of prescribed fire, heavy machinery (e.g. bulldozers), handcutting by chainsaw or brushcutter, hydro-axe, chipper, biomass burning or removal by vehicle. Removal of the biomass should only be done where the weed cover is so dense as to prevent recovery by native vegetation after treatment, or where cut vegetation might create a debris-dam hazard during flood events. Prescribed fire, or burning piles of stacked biomass, is the most cost-effective way of removing biomass as long as it does not threaten native vegetation or other resources. Chipping is more costly in terms of equipment and labor, and cut, dried chips pose no threat for regeneration or for forming debris dams. Hauling of biomass by vehicle is extremely expensive and should only be done as a last resort. Most landfills will not accept A. donax and those that do will only accept if cut into short lengths and bagged into plastic trash bags, making the labor costs far too great. The use of heavy machinery such the Hydro-axâ is extremely expensive. The machines are very slow - a Hydro-ax can only cut about 3-4 acres per day.


By virtue of its growth characteristics, adaptations to disturbance, especially fire, its lack of natural predators and competitors in North America, and its unsuitability as food or habitat for native wildlife, Arundo. donax has established itself as one of the primary threats to native riparian habitats in the western United States.

Control and management of giant reed within a watershed requires a coordinated, watershed-wide approach. Arundo donax should be removed from the watershed beginning in the upper tributaries to prevent reinfestation of treated downstream sites from upstream sources. Removal of A. donax requires treatment with systemic herbicides in order to kill the large root mass.

Past practices of riparian restoration have focused on re-vegetation of small sites without consideration of natural riparian processes. Resources should be spent on managing for the natural dynamic processes of these systems on a watershed-wide scale. In coastal southern California the primary perturbation to the natural riparian succession process in invasion by A. donax, and its removal from river systems will have a far greater beneficial effect on most riparian species than planting of riparian vegetation.


I thank the agencies and representatives of Team Arundo (the Santa Ana River Arundo Management Task Force) and Team Arundo Del Norte for valuable discussion and information that has been incorporated in this paper. Special thanks are due to Cam Barrows, Shelton Douthit, Paul Frandsen, Nelroy Jackson, Dawn Lawson, John Randall, Brian Richter, Eric Stein, Fari Tabatabai, Valerie Vartanian and Dick Zembal for their input.


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Figure 1. Arundo donax. Plant X 1/3; spikelet and floret X 3 (from Hitchcock and Chase 1950).