HP neighbor plans to conquer invasive vines, and you can help

By Diane Averill

They’re creeping all over the place and no doubt, you’ve seen them: those drooping masses of invasive vines that strangle our public trees.

HP resident Karen Toole plans to do something about it and she’s counting on community volunteers to join her, in celebration of Earth Day. A floral designer and Penn State master gardener, Karen has secured DPW permits for vine cutting and removal from the area around the Highland Park Reservoir on two Saturdays, April 15 and April 22, from 10 a.m. to noon. (Similar events will take place at the Spring Hill Greenway on the North Side.)

But it won’t be all work and no play. On the succeeding Sundays, April 16 and April 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, and April 23 at Phipps Garden Center participants (including children) will be led in making vine spheres which they can then take home or contribute to a still-in-the-works public art installation. Tools and materials will be provided for all events, purchased with the proceeds of the GoFundMe that Karen has set up.

At each vine-cutting site, Karen will have fellow master gardeners on hand to answer questions and be on the lookout for the destructive spotted lanternfly, ready to direct isolation and disposal of the invasive pest. Of critical importance, open-bed trucks will be needed to transport the vines from the park to the workshop sites. Karen hopes that local business owners and contractors will step up to provide this vital service.

A Tree Pittsburgh study found that from 2010 to 2015, Pittsburgh lost 6.2 per cent of its tree canopy. While much of that loss accrues to development, it nonetheless makes every remaining tree more valuable.

Vines destroy trees not just by blocking sunlight to prevent leafing out, they can trap moisture that leads to disease and bug infestations. Some vines will girdle a tree so tightly that circulation of water and nutrients is choked off.

On frequent walks with her Australian shepherd, Cruz (named for his birthplace of Santa Cruz, CA), Karen has paused to pull down some vines from time to time. The city does what it can, she says, but the problem is too big for any one entity to solve. Thus, she hopes that this initial “conquering of the vines,” as she calls it, will be become an annual event reaching a larger area. “We have more control,” she said, “if we work together.”

To volunteer or for more information, go to Karen’s business website or Instagram.