Managing waterfowl habitat to produce desirable, duck-beneficial moist-soil vegetation combines art, science and sometimes just plain luck because Mother Nature loves throwing curve balls. Kevin Nelms and Ramsey discuss problematic plant species and remedies. As USDA NRCS Wildlife Biologist in the Mississippi Delta, Nelms has spent decades designing and developing numerous private-lands waterfowl impoundments. He’s worked extensively with private landowners throughout the region, improving desirable waterfowl habitat conditions, enhancing duck utilization, even putting together a handbook that Ramsey considers must-have essential for managing waterfowl habitat (refer to related links in the episode description for your own PDF copy). This is the second episode of a 4-part series that duck habitat nerds both new and old will enjoy.



Related Links:

Wetlands Management for Waterfowl Handbook (PDF)

Managing Moist-Soil Impoundments (YouTube)


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Tips for Managing Property for Duck Habitat

That’s what sets us apart from other federal agencies is, we work with private landowners, agricultural producers to help do conservation and manage their land. 

Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Ducks Season Somewhere, thank you all for listening today. Back in the Duck Season Somewhere studio, Mr. Kevin Nelms, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, wildlife biologists. All right, go back and look at prior episodes, Kevin is a recurring guest brings a lot of habitat expertise to the program was very instrumental in what I regard is one of the Bible of duck habitat management is wetlands management for waterfowl handbook. Take a look at the bottom of this episode or in the episode description, you’ll see a link to the PDF. They’ve also got a great YouTube channel, talking about some of these subject matters you all might find entertaining. Kevin, where can I find these YouTube channels?

Kevin Nelms: So, NRCS, Natural Resource Conservation Service, each state has a YouTube channel and the videos that Ramsey is talking about are on Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana’s NRCS YouTube.

Ramsey Russell: And somebody asked, I know a lot of guys, a lot of our audience, aren’t managing property for duck habitat because we hunt public or hunt something else. And the way I’ve always looked at it is understanding, the more I know about duck habitat, the better enabled I am to kill ducks on my property or if you drop me off in the middle of nowhere and I got to find the ducks. You know what I’m saying? It’s just the more you know the better it gets and that’s why it’s important to me to have Kevin. Not to mention the fact that there’s a lot of things in the duck hunting world that I can’t control, I can’t control when the cold front hits, I can’t control the next duck over the decoys, habitat, I can control, I can control habitat as best I can. And that’s why it’s important and we’ve heard a whole lot about you all, a whole lot from the audience over the years about these habitat segments. Kevin, have you heard from anybody that’s actually following up with you on some of these topics we’ve covered.

Kevin Nelms: I can’t remember when we did the first episode, Ramsay, it’s been well over a year now, might be 2 years, I still average at least a contact per week about somebody asking a management question. They listened to the last one or they’re just now circling around, they ran into a problem that they want to talk to me about. So absolutely, I’m hearing from people constantly.

Ramsey Russell: And that’s a part of your outreach. I mean, that outreach is a part of your job description, that’s what you do in NRCS.

Kevin Nelms: Yeah, I’m a private lands biologist and I work within a geographic region, but absolutely, I’m going to answer emails and phone calls for other people when I can.

Ramsey Russell: Does your position exist in throughout the lower 48 and all the states? I mean, like if I was sitting in Nebraska or Iowa, could I call someone in your position, NRCS wildlife biologist, area biologist and get this kind of assistance.

Kevin Nelms: So, not every state has area biologists like myself, it’s different by state and what that state natural resource conservation service, state office decides on whether they’re going to have area biologists or not. But if your state does not have NRCS area biologist, which natural resource conservation service is the private lands federal agency. That’s what sets us apart from other federal agencies is, we work with private landowners, agricultural producers to help do conservation and manage their land. So if there’s not an NRCS wildlife biologist in your state, there’s going to be other private lands biologist, there’s going to be NGO nongovernment organization, private biologist, Ducks Unlimited or Delta Waterfowl or whatever organization is in your area, lot of state organizations, your state agencies has private lands biologist, Fish & Wildlife service has private lands biologist, there’s a biologist somewhere near you that’s willing to help you on your land.

Managing Seasonally Flooded Moist Soil Wetlands

Ramsey Russell: That’s a good point because anybody listening it to the first time that really just trying to get their hands wet, that don’t know what they’re trying to get their arms around out there on the ground, there are resources out there to help you improve your waterfowl habitat. Well, Kevin, last week we talked about – here we are Red Maples, blooming trucks covered with piling the world’s waking up and as we talked about for the first time, you start seeing wheat’s in your front yard, you’re hitting growing season way before the last frost and it’s the time of year, it’s time to start instituting our management plans for waterfowl habitat going next year. And last week, we spent a lot of time talking about moist soil management going through the first 45 days, the second 45 days, we talked about different benefits of fast and slow time and drawdown’s and stuff like that. But what are we going to talk about today?

Kevin Nelms: Well, let’s make the point again that they were talking about one wetland type here and that’s moist soil management. There are a lot of other wetland types and that’s where your guys, like you said, a while ago that aren’t doing management on their own land where they can key in you, you told them to go back and listen to some other podcast, that’s where those guys are going to tie in. Those wetland types and one of the first ones we did, we talked about the biology of the duck and what they’re using those different wetland types for and times of the year, so as a hunter that’s going to help you even if you’re hunting public land is to know where to go look for the ducks. So we’re not talking about emergent marsh, we’re not talking about shrub scrub, we’re not talking about Tupelo cypress brakes or whatever, we’re talking about seasonally flooded moist soil wetlands. So, we covered the spring like you’re talking about, we’ve moved into the summer season and now we’re monitoring, we might still be pulling boards, we might be pulling the board still once every 2 weeks, but we’re monitoring the vegetation that were germinating, we’re monitoring the vegetation that’s coming up, we’re making sure that we’re getting the results that we want and if we’re not, then we’ve got to start thinking about controlling that undesirable or unwanted vegetation or deciding whether we need to control it. So undesirable vegetation, there was a botanist one time said that, a weed is a plant whose virtue has not yet been discovered and there’s a lot of truth for that with wildlife, something’s going to use that plant for one reason or another for most plants. So, is that plant a problem? Okay, it’s not a duck food but how much of our moist soil unit is it covering? So percentage is important there. If it’s just covering 5% of the area, then we’re not so concerned about, if it’s covering 50% of the area then we should be concerned about it because now it’s unwanted and it’s dominating or getting close to dominating. So, percentage or amount is important. And then, okay, what are we going to do? What are our different habitat management techniques to control unwanted vegetation? We can boost some plants and control that way, we can disc some plants and control that way or lots of times we’re moving to herbicide depending on the plant.

Ramsey Russell: I’ll tell you why that doesn’t bother me. Heck yeah, if I’ve got a 1000, 1500, 2000 acre impoundment out here, yeah, it’d be nice to have it all, whatever my target crop is. But the thing about it is, let’s say it was 40% or 50%, then I go ahead and start to mow it or spray it or disc it, now, imagine that cover type with water on it, now, what I’ve created is that hemi marsh effect. And I mean, that’s one thing I’ve seen Kevin is, Rick Kaminski from Mississippi State University did some graduate research on this and preached to us when we were at Mississippi State quarter century ago about it and he said that 50% vertical structured open water, covered open water was what kind of sweet spot for attracting waterfowl and I’ve seen that to be the case whether I’m hunting, Tule marsh, which is completely out of my control or I’m hunting moist soil impoundments planning with agriculture or moist soil management, it’s really okay to have disparity open water versus some cover like that, the ducks like it for some reason.

The Benefits of Hemi-Marsh

So, you need to learn some plant ID, you need to learn what’s common in your area, what the native duck foods are in your area, learn to identify those…

Kevin Nelms: Yeah, we’ve talked about that before. I think the hemi marsh and like you said, that’s the hemi, hemi means half 50% open water, 50% vegetation and there’s numerous research projects that show that not only waterfowl but all different kinds of birds mammals, even down to your muskrats prefer that Hemi Marsh look, the reptiles and amphibians. And I think I said to you one time before, if you ever get in an airplane and you’re flying over wetlands, counting ducks or whatever, that hemi marsh looking, half vegetation, half water, it even looks sexy to us in a plane, we look at it and go man that just looks good and I need to be down there. So, whether it’s visual cues, whether it’s habitat, whatever. Yeah, it’s that mosaic, that diversity that we’ve talked about last time, you’re trying to get that plant diversity. So, timing is important on unwanted vegetation, that’s why we’re monitoring. We’ve got to identify it early, the way to be successful with all of these control methods is to hit it at the right time. Herbicide is only good when a plan is actively growing and it’s up taking the herbicide. If mowing is successful when you’re timing the mowing right, discing is successful when you’re timing the discing right. So, you need to learn some plant ID, you need to learn what’s common in your area, what the native duck foods are in your area, learn to identify those and that’s another thing that I do is, I go out and look at these habitats and tell people, okay, everything looks great or hey, you’ve got a problem over here, this is this plant, let’s do this to control this plant. And then, there’s guys that I’ve worked with for years after I’ve visited 3 or 4 or 5 years in a row, they start learning this stuff themselves. You don’t always have to go teach yourself, let somebody else teach you. But you mentioned the moist soil management handbook, the whole back half of that is pictures of plants and the common plants and if it’s a good plan, if it’s not a good plan, what the percentage is to control, the key so or the cue on percentage on when to control, when you don’t have to worry about it and also how to control. And if it’s not a bad plan, how to get more of it, how to manage to get more of it. So, you want to talk about a few southeastern plants? We mentioned red vine in the fall, that’s the following episode, that’s when we’re treating red vine is and it’s one that you just got to herbicide. There’s some species that mowing, you don’t do anything to them, disc them, you just cut them up and make more of them and red vines are one of those.

Ramsey Russell: It is one of our major nemeses on this particular property. It just thrives, it covers everything like Kudzu and we learned early on if you disc it, it just like putting rocket fuel on fire, it just takes off. But you can’t just go out there and sprays it around it during the growing season or pretreat it, it takes a specific treatment later in the season, like in the fall.

Is Coffee Weed Sesbania a Problem for Waterfowl?

But they say that coffee weed seed is real common in crop analysis of waterfowl, it’s probably because they’re feeding up under that coffee weed and incidentally ingesting it.

Kevin Nelms: You spray it in the fall right before the first frost, it’s got a huge root system, root big around as your leg. And so you’ve got to take the chemical to the root and kill that root and that’s what the spraying right before the frost does, it makes the chemical go down, the plant takes the chemical down through the biological process. And Dicamba is the chemical that you use, it’s the only chemical that will do anything for it. So that’s red vine and again, that’s fall, don’t worry about it during the growing season, you just identify it, no, I got to do something with it in the fall. The one that I get questions about all the time is coffee weed sesbania. And I think I’ve told you before and I tell people this all the time sesbania or coffee weed is a personal problem, it’s not really a waterfowl problem.

Ramsey Russell: It can be.

Kevin Nelms: Well, they don’t eat it, it’s got no benefits for waterfowl really, other than it does provide some cover sometimes –

Ramsey Russell: They love that.

Kevin Nelms: They do, if there’s no other cover around, but it is an annual plant that means you’ve done disturbance, you’ve done something right, you’ve got an annual plant, so I rarely ever, I’m thinking over 26 year career here, I can’t get to in my head where I’ve seen solid stands of coffee weed that do not have moist soil under and that’s why I say it’s a personal problem. Everybody looks out there and they look at, oh, look coffee weed, we got to do something about the coffee weed and when I’m on the property and they tell me that, I know I got to do something with this coffee weed, I said, well, let’s walk out there and look at it. Get out of the truck, get off the levee, walk out there and I can usually identify 6-10 great plants growing under, look at this. Well, you don’t have a coffee weed problem, you just got coffee weed growing in your moist soil.

Ramsey Russell: That probably explain why I associate coffee weed with Sprinkle top and nuts, that’s what I see a lot growing up under those stands. But they say that coffee weed seed is real common in crop analysis of waterfowl, it’s probably because they’re feeding up under that coffee weed and incidentally ingesting it.

Kevin Nelms: Yeah, it’s not when you look at old preference studies, it’s not in there, it’s in newer studies. So back before it was prevalent on the landscape because of agriculture, it was not being eaten which tells you that there’s not a preference for it. And it’s extremely hard seed.

Ramsey Russell: Hard as the day as the BB.

Kevin Nelms: Yeah, question if it even had digestibility or not. But they do have a crop so they can grind stuff up.

Ramsey Russell: It’s an interesting plant species because slow water drawdown, it likes that and drop a disc on the delta soils is coming up, boys, is it coming up.

Kevin Nelms: So the biology of coffee weed is it germinates on 90° plus air temperature on a quick draw down. So, coffee weeds telling you a couple of different things. Number one, you drew down too fast or you should have stopped pulling boards, go back to my 70° nighttime temperature stop and let evaporation take over, you won’t get coffee weed if you’re drawing down like that. However, summer thunderstorms, we get a thunderstorm rolled through 02:00, 03:00 in the afternoon, sun pops out afterwards, sun stays out till 08:00 at night, dries it out real quick, you’re going to get some coffee weed. Coffee weed is, it’s going to be in the southeast because of thunderstorms. The other thing and you mentioned it clottiness, what drives out first out there on the landscape? Those little dirt clots at the disc has rolled up and if you’ll go out there and look lots of times that coffee weed is growing on those dirt clots because it dried out first, it got to rain it dried out really fast, that’s another beauty of discing the fall, putting water over the top of it and letting all that discing soil, that disc soil mellow out is you don’t get that clottiness that creates coffee weed when it dries out too fast.

Ramsey Russell: As a problem species and I will concede, it’s a personal problem and it’s got its place and I’ll talk about that in a minute. But it grows like Jack and the Beanstalk. You go out there and look at your wetland and it’s an inch tall and you go out there tomorrow and it’s knee high and two weeks later that son of a gun has disappeared in the lowest clot on the sky, it’s just the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, it just how quick it grows and it will, if it gets out of hand, there may be in some situations in moist soil drought down and there might be some wildlife beneficial plants growing underneath it in conjunction with it, but in a planning, it shades it out, I see it time and time again.

Weed Control Methods for Duck Habitat

Explain how discing can be an effective weed control method by burying weed seeds and disrupting the growth cycle of weeds, reducing competition for nutrients and water.

Kevin Nelms: Yeah. So we’ve talked about the plant, let’s talk about controlling the plant. 

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Kevin Nelms: So coffee weed’s a broadleaf, you can get some control out of most broadleaf with mowing because your grasses grow back when you cut the top off, broad leaves don’t grow back out the top, when you cut the top off, they grow out the sides. So, now it does grow from the ground so you’ll still get some height but you don’t get as much height. If you time that mowing or time that discing properly, you can get rid of a lot of coffee weed, the plant, if people that know it well, know it’s got a yellow showy flower on it and if you’ll mow right after that flowering right before its setting pods or right as its setting pods, it’s putting all of its energy into that flowering and pod setting. So you mow it then it’s used up a lot of its stored energy, it’s an annual plant, so it doesn’t have a whole lot of stored energy and so you do a lot of control that way. If you don’t catch it until later then it’s an herbicide issue, if it’s already got a bean set on it, got a pod set on it, then you’ve got to use herbicide, it’s a broadleaf, so you use a broadleaf selected herbicide like a 24D, the only thing about 24D is 24D is killing all your broadleaf. So if you got smart weed, some tooth cup, that kind of stuff out there, you’re killing it too and you’re killing it before it set seed. So, that’s another reason I say it’s a personal problem. So the other chemical that does really good on coffee weed is Ultra Blazer. Ultra Blazer is kind of a coffee weed specific chemical and it’s not as hard on the smart weeds and that kind of stuff, it’s still going to ding them pretty hard, sometimes if you’re using a high rate, it’s going to go ahead and kill them. But Ultra Blazer is really, I guess it was probably developed for coffee weed in bean plantings because that’s what it does.

Ramsey Russell: You know what’s interesting to me, I’m just thinking of some of my experience dealing with coffee weed, since we’re talking about it, here’s a great a time to throw it in there. Jap Millet, Brown Top Millet, some moist soil, some situations where you come in, it’ll come up on those mudflats and needs good sunshine, when those days are 90° and you pull off quick, like you say, it’ll come up when you’re disc on that clottiness, it’ll take over the joint but it also – you know what else I’ve seen? I go out there and I’ve got this beautiful stand of Jap Millet, I’ve got this beautiful stand of Brown top Millet I’ve planted, those plants explode and then wither within a 60 days period, you ever seen that? It’ll grow to make seed and then it’ll just melt down to nothing and that usually takes place. But when you planted it sometime in July and August and here comes the coffee weed, because now it’s not being held down, it’s ready to take over the site. So now all your great crop is covered by this Jack and the Beanstalk, coffee weed. But anyway, and while you’re talking about controlling it, I just want to share this story, I know Mr. Denmon won’t mind, he’s got a beautiful property down Louisiana and it had been out of management because he’s a busy guy for a while. About 10 years ago, he called me up and go look at it and its just rank, it’s just unmanaged, it needed a reset, to borrow Kevin’s word, it needed a hard reset and we talked about it and he reset it and I went out there and it was wall to wall coffee weed because he had disced him soils, it’s year one. So I said, well, there’s chemical solutions and we had a mutual friend that was in the chemical business and I said, man, call him, he’ll tell you just what to spray. And I went out there year 2 or 3 and it was 640 acres of the most beautiful Sprinkle top and barnyard grass you’ve ever seen. And the problem was, there’s no way to hunt those ducks. If I’m hunting here there over there, if I’m hunting over there, they’re over here, they would raft up in the middle of nowhere and I said, well, now that you figured out how to control coffee weed, why don’t you use it to your advantage? Go back to that Hemi marsh. He said, what do you mean? 40%, 50%, 30% of coffee weed throughout the whole property, don’t manage those areas, let it come up in large coffee weed that you can place your blind and hide. And that was going back to the hemi marsh, going back to that percent of vertical structure a little bit, a lot, too much of a good thing. Ain’t no good, but managing it, you can actually use it to your advantage.

Other Problematic Plants in Moist Soil Duck Habitats

Perennial smart weeds are one that we’ve talked about before, smart weeds are good, but again, this goes back to percentages and how much perennial smart weed can, it gets so mat forming and so dense that it’s keeping anything else from growing with it around it. 

Kevin Nelms: Yeah, I started out by saying it’s a personal problem and I tell people all the time and I know I’m a duck hunter, it’s hard to pull the decoy bag through, it’s hard to pull the decoy cords through, weights are hanging on it, all that kind of stuff. I tell people go spray in front of the blind, landscape your duck hole the way you want it to be. But you don’t have to get rid of all of it because there’s good stuff out there. Like I said, I can think of one time, I looked at a solid coffee weed stand, there’s generally other stuff under it. cocklebur is a lot like coffee weed, it’s the same 90° air temperature, fast drying out, it’s not as pervasive as coffee weed, you’re going to get coffee weed more than you’re going to get – cocklebur won’t come behind the thunderstorm like coffee weed will, so there’s always going to be some coffee weed. I’ve met with a guy on a property 20 years ago and he showed me all this cocklebur and said this place is never going to be a duck hole because of all this cocklebur, I said, well, tell you what, do this moisture management, the way I tell you to do it, stop your draw down when you get to 70° temperatures and I’m almost positive, you never say, it’s always going to happen in the wildlife world, in the natural world, I said, I’m almost positive you’re not going to have cocklebur problems, he said, I don’t believe it, but we’ll try. There’s never been another cocklebur on that piece of property and it’s one of the better duck properties in the Mississippi Delta. I mean, honestly have never seen another cocklebur I’ve been involved with this guy for 20 years and he was convinced that the property was never going to be anything because of cocklebur.

Ramsey Russell: How did you get rid of it?

Kevin Nelms: It was just draw down time and then slow draw down and not continuing to pull boards when it got hot. 

Ramsey Russell: It doesn’t tolerate water. 

Kevin Nelms: It doesn’t tolerate water and it’s a dry species, not a wet species.

Ramsey Russell: It reminds me, that cocklebur story reminds me, a lot like coffee weed, it can be a personal problem because one of the best spots I ever hunted in Mississippi was on the Mississippi River and if we could find a flat of cocklebur, there would always be mallards, always. And as we’re plucking ducks, they’re just full of cocklebur, where they penetrated through there to get it up to their skin, but they like to get down. This is just, otherwise a sandbar with a dense stand of cocklebur and we put decoys kind of out on the edge and when we’d pull up after daylight, they would come just boiling out of those cocklebur stands where they liked the cover, they like that security, there was no nutritive benefit whatsoever, there was something else they were getting out of it and that was a good place for us to hunt. We looked for cocklebur on the river, big stand of cocklebur.

Kevin Nelms: Yeah, I could see where – it’s got big leaves on it, I could see where the cover would be beneficial but certainly not a food source.

Ramsey Russell: No, not a food source. Not good for the habitat management, we’re talking about.

Kevin Nelms: Right. So that’s really the two annual plants that are going to be a problem. I can’t think of anything else annual that’s really going to be a problem. So let’s move into some perennial plants that I see causing some problems and moist soil units and this is just about always in the bottom of the moist soil unit, the wettest part, the part that’s not drying up, the part that’s holding water, there’s always some corner over there or something that’s not draining. Perennial smart weeds are one that we’ve talked about before, smart weeds are good, but again, this goes back to percentages and how much perennial smart weed can, it gets so mat forming and so dense that it’s keeping anything else from growing with it around it. So when you get – if I see a moist soil unit that’s got 20% perennial smart weed and think about perennial smart weed is, it’s going to grow in water, but when you get it completely dried out, it’s still there. It’s there because we’ve had a water regime too long. But the year that we do get it dried out then it’s surviving on that drier soil. 

Ramsey Russell: If I’m out on the property in June, July in the Deep South and I’m in a truck or a tractor and I drive off into perennial smart weed, I’m about to get stuck.

Kevin Nelms: That’s right. You better not be driving off into it, you better be stopping and backing up. Yeah, so the perennial smart weed when it gets 20% or more we need to start thinking about controlling it. Because now it’s starting to – it’s getting to where it’s going to be a problem when it gets past 20%, 25% somewhere in there. And perennial smart weed, it can be disced out of a unit, you can disc it up enough that it’s not going to come back, but it’s generally in that wet area that we’re talking about. So you’re not going to get a disc in it, so it’s generally one that you’ve got to go to a herbicide with and 24D or glyphosate mixed with 24D will generally take care of perennial smart weed. But it’s another one of those that timing is paramount because if we wait until, like you said, July, I’m getting ready to drive off in it, we’ve got it dry now, that’s when we can get a spray rig in it or whatever. Now, it’s not actively growing because in July, we’re dry and everything stopped and there’s no active growth, so it’s not going to take the chemical up, so you’re not going to get a good kill on it. So you need to identify it earlier in the growing season, get on it earlier, when it’s got active growth and basically when you’ve got that much of it, do what you got to do if you got to use the hand sprayers to go out there if you’ve got to use the 4 wheeler that can go in that area with a small spray rig or whatever, do what you got to do to get rid of that smart weed when it starts taking over too much of the unit. Another thing that, it’s pretty common in those wet areas that stay wet that don’t get drained or whatever that starts coming up, creeping burhead and I see it get a miss identified lot of times people say, oh, I’ve got this duck potato down here, no, it’s not duck potatoes, its creeping burhead. Duck potato is – the way to tell the true difference is, duck potato has up and down veins that are parallel to the stem, creeping burhead has veins going both directions like a checkerboard. It’s got them parallel to the vein, but it’s also got them perpendicular to the parallel veins in the leaf. But the other thing is, your duck potato is generally not coming on until August, September, you’re creeping burhead is there in April, May, June, if you got something that you think is duck potato out there in the duck hole in May and June, it ain’t duck potatoes, it’s creeping burhead.

Ramsey Russell: What could you really do to control that, because where I say creeping burhead, it’s just murky shallow water other than it just drying completely out.

Kevin Nelms: So again, 5% of it, not a problem, but it is one of these plants that when you disc through it, it spreads by seed, it spreads by rhizomes, that’s the creeping part, is it’s going to move out. So when it moves out, you start wanting to control it and I just told you, discing spreads it. 32 ounces of 24D, it cannot stand, it will hammer it. Most plants, if you’re spraying 24D, 16 ounces is normal rate for most plants, you got to double that and go 32 for creeping burhead and it’s going to go away. I looked at a hole 2 years ago with the guy, most of the hole was creeping burhead, he kept water on it, it wasn’t deep enough, it was drying out and getting that murky that you just talked about later in the growing season and it turned into a flat of creeping burhead and he had sprayed it and it didn’t do anything to it, ask him what he sprayed. And he said, well, you said, 16 ounces of 24D, I said, no, go 32, he said, okay, well, I’m coming back. Well, then when I was there the next year looking at its most beautiful stand of moist soil grass you would have ever seen. And I was like, hold on, this was creeping burhead unit and he said, yeah, and he said in 32 ounces 24D did exactly what you said, it was going to do.

Ramsey Russell: And let a lot of natural stuff come in, a lot of desirable stuff.

Kevin Nelms: That’s exactly right. We’ve been talking a lot about leaf size, it seems like in these 2 episodes, creeping burhead has got a big leaf and it’s shading out a lot of other stuff. And you see spatterdock in those same situations a little bit, I see creeping burhead a whole lot more than spatterdock. Spatterdock, same thing, 24D will take care of it except spatterdock has that more of a waxy leaf and chemical likes to roll off of a waxy leaf. So, spatterdock, you got to use a surfactant that will cut that waxy cuticle, which is usually a lemon or orange based surfactant, which is acids in – there’s a synthetic one that I recommend to people a lot called cide kick, that’s for cutting waxy cuticle, that’s a great aquatic herbicide surfactant to use. And then the other one probably that I see a lot that’s going to occur all over the place is cattail. And again, cattail we’ve talked about the hemi marsh, cattails is not a bad plant until you start getting around that 20% threshold. 

Ramsey Russell: Too much of it. 

Getting the Most Benefit Out of Your Duck Habitat Herbicide

It’s all in using the right chemical, it’s glyphosate does some things 24D does some things, ultra blazer, imazapyr, dicamba.

Kevin Nelms: Too much of it. And cattails bound to move too, it’s going to establish new clumps and start going. And so cattail is, it’s a tough plant to control, takes a lot of glyphosate, 64 ounces or more per acre of glyphosate. And what I tell people is, if you can get the unit dry early, because again, it’s timing, you got to do it when it’s actively growing and cattails not actively growing later in the growing season, it’s actively growing in May, early June, April, it actually starts growing in March. If you can get it dry and burn the unit or mow the unit and we’re not talking the whole unit, although I have seen the whole units of cattail, wherever your cattail is, burn it or mow it, knock that top off of it and then come right behind it and spray it with 64 ounces of glyphosate, you’ve killed it. I guess, I got a story on every plant, about 6 years ago, some guys bought a catfish pond complex that they were wanting to abandoned catfish ponds here in the Mississippi Delta, they wanted to duck hunt on it, it’s got infrastructure and everything and about 3 of the units were growing up in solid cattail. Previous landowner had taken water off of them, lots of times those grow up in willows, but this one was holding some slash water, it grew up in cattails and the pipe wasn’t letting it drain entirely. I said, look guys this is what I do. I’d come in and cut the levee and get them completely dry, I met with them in late summer or something, I said, I wouldn’t do anything this year except cut the levee. There’s no reason to even try to flood it up for duck hunting because you don’t have duck habitat here because I’m talking a solid stand of dog hair thick cattails on 3 different units. I said, cut the levee, I said, come back next spring, burn it, you got fire break of a levee all the way around it, set it on fire and then come in and spray 96 ounces of glyphosate. I said, and this is such a bad stand you might have to do that 2 years in a row. Well, 2 years later they called me, hey, come back out here and look at the place, we got questions, we want you to just tell us what some of these plants are whatever. And so I go back out there and we went to the other side of the property first and looked at all these different units and then we come over to the side of the property where cattails were and we looked at a couple of ponds and then we got one and best stand of moist soil on the whole place. I was like, man, this is what you are looking for, guys this is just fantastic. And I said hold on, this was that first cattail unit, they said, that’s right. They said, we burned it just like you said, we sprayed it and said, we come in behind it and disc it and this is what we got and they said, this is a unit that we killed our most ducks on last year and one year they turned dog hair thick cattails around just using that prescription. And they had 3 units like that. So it’s all in timing, it’s all in knowing what your plan is. It’s all in using the right chemical, it’s glyphosate does some things 24D does some things, ultra blazer, imazapyr, dicamba, we’ve talked about a bunch of different things.

Ramsey Russell: Discing, mowing.

Kevin Nelms: Yeah, discing and mowing, using your mower before the herbicide to get the most benefit out of your herbicide. And there’s a lot of other invasive plants in other parts of the country and I will tell your listeners if you call me about something that somewhere I don’t know where it is, I’m not going to know off the top of my head, but I’ll find you some answers probably.

Ramsey Russell: Right or put them in touch with the proper people.

Kevin Nelms: That’s right. I send an email to a contact in Florida just the other day about hey – actually torpedo grass was the plant and I was able to identify the plant, but I’ve never really messed with torpedo grass much and I know it’s a big problem in Florida. So I sent an email to a guy I know down there and was like, hey, give me a prescription for torpedo grass, what I need to do.

Ramsey Russell: Do you think that chinquapin is a proper plant?

Kevin Nelms: No.

Ramsey Russell: Most people don’t like it, I like it. 

Kevin Nelms: It’s one of those –

Ramsey Russell: We’re talking about water lotus, chinquapin lotus is what I call it.

Kevin Nelms: Yeah, American lotus. Yeah, I knew what you were talking about and you’re right we do need to define it for other people. A lot of people call it lily pads, even though it’s not the same plant. It’s a product of continuous water about 2ft to 3ft deep and it is hard to get rid of, it’s got that waxy cuticle, you got to spray it and you use a surfactant that’ll cut that waxy cuticle. But it’s an excellent cover plant, wood duck broods, love it for brood habitat. It dies down after frost that melts down to a whole lot of nothing pretty quick during the duck season. And that’s a pretty good segue to – you can’t always manage everything, there’s some wetland types that’s what they are and –

Ramsey Russell: Got to work with them.

Kevin Nelms: Okay, you’ve held water for an emergent marsh unit and that’s what you’ve got, well, go find something else to be emergent marsh because that one’s a little too shallow or it dries out too quick or something like that. But a lot of times where you see American lotuses that unit that you can’t drain, it’s just, you’ve got problems on your neighbor that’s beavers, something downstream, you don’t have a good structure, you don’t have a good outlet, it’s a pothole, whatever and you’re just not going to change it. I mean, you can go out there every year and spray it, but you’re not going to get much different because the plant is there for a specific reason based on depth of the water and water regime.

Ramsey Russell: And I see a lot of, Naja and other good stuff kind of growing up under there and I’ve killed ducks in lily pads. I mean, the chinquapin, I’ve killed them. And it’s usually during duck season you got just this little old stem sticking up everywhere but there’s food in there to something the ducks like.

Kevin Nelms: It melts down, yeah. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen, your submerged aquatic Naja those kind of plants mixed in with lily pads. But there’s always that center out there that’s a little bit deeper or whatever, that’s where you’re submerged aquatics are coming in. 

Ramsey Russell: Probably like everything else, you just don’t need it taken over the whole joint.

Kevin Nelms: That’s right. But generally it’s around the edge where you got that water that I described and then out there in the middle is something different. I don’t get bent out of shape and like you said, unless it’s just too much of it and it’s overtaking the whole unit. But again, sometimes you just got to live with what you got.

Ramsey Russell: Kevin, remind everybody of how they can get in touch with you.

Kevin Nelms: Email,

Ramsey Russell: There you go. I appreciate you coming on. Next time we visit, I want to get kind of off into the hot crops in food plots because we talk a lot about moist soil and natural communities because it’s really kind of easier and a lot more practical to manage, kind of go with the flow of a low lying site.

Kevin Nelms: And cheaper.

 Ramsey Russell: And cheaper and it’s got a lot of benefits we’ve talked about. But hot crops, agriculture does have its place whether we’re doing a reset, whether we’re creating a better complex for our waterfowl and I want to talk to you about that. Because I know it would be important to a lot of listeners and then I’d also like to talk about some of the pitfalls or different mismanagement you’ve seen over the years, we’ll do that next time, all right?

Kevin Nelms: All right, sounds good.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere where you have been listening to my buddy Kevin Nelms, Wildlife Biologist for USDA natural resource conservation service. Look in the episode description for links, I think you will enjoy to NRCS YouTube channels and the wetland management for waterfowl handbook, see you next time.


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