Forb cover increases after solarization and winter fire in a grassland invaded by yellow bluestem.
Solarization (covering soil and vegetation with plastic) has long been used in agriculture to control undesirable plants, but solarization of invasive plants in rangelands has shown mixed and species-specific results. Yellow bluestem (Bothriochloa ischaemum (L.) Keng var. songarica (Rupr. ex Fisch & C.A. Mey) Celarier & Harlan), an invasive perennial C4 grass, is common throughout the southern Great Plains and is not controlled by winter prescribed fire. We tested whether solarization (tarping) with black plastic, combined with winter prescribed fire, could control yellow bluestem. We applied three treatments (with four replicates): solarization (August to November 2017) + fire (January 2018), trimming + fire, and fire only. Results after two growing seasons show that total yellow bluestem cover in solarized + fire plots was reduced to 54% ± 10% (mean ± standard error), lower than trimmed + fire (82% ± 5%, p < 0.01) and fire only plots (78% ± 6%, p = 0.01). Forb cover in solarized + fire plots (15% ± 4%) was much higher than trimmed + fire (4% ± 1%, p < 0.01) and fire only plots (3% ± 1%, p < 0.01). Native forb richness was only slightly higher in solarized + fire plots (16 ± 2 species) compared to fire only (10 ± 2 species, p = 0.08) and trimmed + fire plots (10 ± 1 species, p = 0.08). Interestingly, native forb richness in all plots increased compared to pre-treatment values (2 ± 1 species for all treatments, p < 0.01). Solarization + winter fire can slightly decrease yellow bluestem cover and greatly increase native forb cover, creating islands of diversity in otherwise low-diversity grasslands. However, repeated treatments or alternative techniques will be needed for full control of yellow bluestem.