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Get rid of air potato vine by nipping it in the spud
By JOHN KORYCKI, Extension Cords
Published October 10, 2007
The air potato vine's dark green, heart-shaped leaves can measure up to 8 inches across.
[Ron Thompson | Times]
Noxious weeds. Even the name sounds imposing.
Otherwise known as invasive exotics, noxious weeds can cause the backyard gardener a serious headache. These are the plants that just seem to take over, can't be killed and tend to grow like weeds. Most homeowners have faced at least one of these adversaries. Their names - including skunk vine, air potato, cogon grass and smilax - can cause groans of frustration.
In Hernando County, one of the most common invaders is the air potato vine. This nuisance is a killer that can even out-compete kudzu. As it climbs our trees and native vegetation, it reduces the amount of sunlight available to them and can kill them over time. When the temperature warms up in the spring, this vine is ready to take over and cover our gardens and wooded areas.
If you have had problems with this plant, late fall and winter is a great time to go on the offensive. Look carefully under trees, shrubs, sloping areas and ditches. You may find many dark brown "potatoes" lying on the ground or under the leaves, just waiting to come to life.
Each winter, as the temperature falls, the potato vine grows dormant and appears to die off. By November or December, all that is left is a tangle of dead, brown stems and leaves clinging to suffocated trees and shrubs. In reality, they are just taking a rest.
The air potato is an annual plant, meaning that it is natural for it to die off during the wintertime. But, before it does, it ensures the next year's crop by producing large amounts of "tubers" or storage areas. These come in the form of the "potato," which waits on the soil until prompted to grow by the warm conditions of the coming spring. Once germinating, the air potato is a remarkable grower, capable of reaching the tops of trees in a short period of time.
When working in your landscape this fall, be on the lookout for these storage bulbs. Pick them up and dispose of them in the trash. If you leave them, you can be assured of a bumper crop of the pest next spring.
Air potato vines are related to the yam family. Their dark green, heart-shaped leaves can measure up to 8 inches across. The leaves can look deceptively similar to those of morning glory, a common landscape vine, but tend to be larger and darker green. Also, air potato rarely flowers in Florida, while morning glories produce a brilliant blue color.
Over the years, air potato vines have been spread by unsuspecting gardeners who liked their rapid growth, dark green color and few pest problems. Unfortunately, once introduced, air potato can easily take over, killing native trees and vegetation and resisting control.
Removing the tubers works to reduce the infestation but can be a lot of work. Many cities and counties host yearly "air potato roundups" to help remove tubers from public lands and parks. Groups of volunteers can remove hundreds of pounds of tubers in just one day.
In addition to removal of the tubers, which is done in the fall and winter, chemical controls can also be used to help combat the pest. These products are effective only when the weeds are actively green and growing, so don't bother treating the plants during the winter or when they are declining.
Chemical control can also be challenging and usually requires multiple retreatments of the leaves and vines with a nonselective weed killer. The most effective chemical to use is triclopyr Garlon. This product is nonselective, meaning it will kill most woody plants that it touches, and it is extremely dangerous to use around desirable plants.
With fall right around the corner, plan on having an air potato day in your neighborhood. Be sure to dispose of them in plastic bags. If they are dumped onto the ground in another location, they will probably sprout. Follow up this wintertime chore with a few careful applications of herbicide in the spring, and you just might reclaim your corner of the world.
John Korycki is the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods coordinator for the University of Florida/Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org The use of trade names in this article is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. It is not a guarantee or warranty of the products named, and does not signify that they are approved to the exclusion of others of suitable composition.