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Mowing Phragmites
with Emily Sullivan

After spraying, which effects the root system, mulching the Phragmites leaves and stems is the second in the two stage protocol of effective Phragmites management. In this video segment we meet Emily Sullivan, Wetlands Project Coordinator, Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control and wetlands Management District, who oversees the mowing program in marsh areas. She explains how mowing efforts reduce fire hazards and helps control mosquitos while also helping to stop the expansion of Phragmites when combined with a vigorous spraying program.

Session Date Rough Edit Transcript Tight Edit Youtube Posting
9/24/13 10/14/13 11/2/13 1/6/14 1/17/14

Emily Sullivan talking about mowing Phragmites
Emily Sullivan talking about mowing Phragmites.
Hi, I’m Emily Sullivan. I’m the wetlands project coordinator for the northeast mass mosquito control and management district. We’re here today on the Great Marsh, one of our mowing sites.

Today we’re mowing the area after it’s been treated with the herbicide. Our equipment is highly specialized. It’s been custom-fabricated to be low-ground pressure.

Mowing stands of Phragmites

On average, they’re about 3lb/in2 ground pressure. To give you a sense for what that translates out to, your average person walking across the marsh has a ground pressure of about 8lb/in2. The obvious benefits to having a low ground-pressure machine is that you can get into wet areas, soft areas, particularly the marsh areas where Phragmites grows, and you can cause very minimal impact if any at all. The machine you’ll see today is a piston pulley. It’s actually designed to go on the ski slopes and it has a number of attachments that we use. The one we’re using today is a flail mower. The flail mower is essentially a drum that has a number of L-shaped teeth hooked to a chain, a short piece of chain, and that spins at high rotation. And, it essentially shreds the Phragmites into very fine particles. It’s very effective in reducing the height of the Phragmites and exposing the ground below to air and sunlight, which then allows the native plants and seeds to rejuvenate up through and grow. So, it’s an essential part of any herbicide program is to follow it up with typically one to two years of mowing to make sure those native species can come back in and reclaim the territory that they originally had.

We’re typically called in to mow. People ask us to mow on their sites for a number of reasons. My agency is mosquito control, so that is our number one objective – is to expose the marsh surface so you can see the topography, and when the marsh and holds smaller pockets of water, which can produce mosquitoes. Once you have mowed, you can expose those areas and you can see where they are, number one, but it also allows you to treat them efficiently. When you have a monoculture like Phragmites, which can grow anywhere from a very small sprout to 15 or 20 feet in some areas, it’s difficult at best to work your way into it on foot. And, some of the older growth areas, areas that haven’t been mowed or areas that have never been treated, the undergrowth remains upright and it creates an obstruction that you cannot pass through.

So, one of the reasons why we mow then, is to both see what we’re doing but also to allow safe and efficient access. Another reason we are called into mow, in some cases we’re called into mow as a fire suppression. Late in the season Phragmites gets very dry and brittle, so even a small spark or a cigarette thrown out a window could ignite the entire stand and, if you’ve ever seen Phragmites burn, it goes very quickly.

We’ve been mowing in Essex county for almost 15-20 years now, and we’ve obviously perfected the methods we use.

There are number of reasons to control Phragmites, but from the mosquito control perspective, there’s largely two reasons. One is access, being able to see the area that you’re treating. The other is to allow fish movement through an area. Once you have cleared it, the fish have better access.

Fish are a very efficient and beneficial control that we encourage at all measures. At any given time we would love to use natural controls – a biological material or a chemical. So, whenever we can we try and include a water management type aspect to our projects. It’s a part of any good integrated pest management program. When you mow Phragmites you allow fish to get in those areas where they wouldn’t normally be able to. The fish will eat the mosquito larva and give you your natural control.

When fish are on site, they are very effective in controlling mosquitoes. Up to 99% of the population can be controlled by fish alone.

We enjoy partnerships with a number of other agencies in this work, so there are many goals.

Mosquito control is our goal.

Other benefits to the environment – we’re all about doing that. It’s a win-win for everybody. And, we would encourage any restoration project or Phragmites control project. We would encourage that they have a mosquito control component, and that’s where we like to come in.

One of the things my crew always brings to my attention is how rapidly things come back into the area once the area has been mowed. They see field mice, and obviously the hawks are on the edge looking for those mice, there’s deer, there’s water fowl. All sorts of creatures are now back using that area whereas before when it was a monoculture of pure Phrag, they were not able to use it. So, again, just another one of the benefits to controlling Phragmites. Vision, you can see so much more when your Phragmites is removed from the area. You can see the river in the Great Marsh next to a control area, I drive by it every day. It’s wonderful – I can drive by now and for the first time in years, I’m able to see the Merrimack river as I drive back and forth to work. That’s something you wouldn’t be able to say had we not completed this program, had we not done the work and controlled the Phragmites there. So, there’s ecotourism, is a another big feature to the Great Marsh and any time you can expose the marsh and see it, people are more inclined to go use it, appreciate it and be out in it and enjoy it. So, it’s just another, again, just one more reason why controlling Phragmites is such a good, good thing.

I’m Emily Sullivan and I work for the Northeast Mass Mosquito Control and Wetlands Management district and I want to thank you all for allowing me this opportunity and for watching Danger in the Reeds.

Tim running the tractor

Danger in the Reeds is being produced by Staddles Productions
with the help of Dr Gregg Moore, Peter Phippen and Geoff Walker.

We would all like to express our graditude to our many Kickstarter supporters
without whom this project would not be possible.

Rick Hydren  ~ Office: 978-948-3346, Cell: 508-954-1298
PO Box 715, Rowley MA 01969


Portrait Photography ~ Real Estate Photography