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Dear Friend and Gardener

Weeds in My Garden

  1. Pennsylvania smartweed

    One of my weeds – Pennsylvania smartweed

    What is a weed? How do I get rid of weeds? These are two of the questions gardeners agonize over.

I own a wonderful book, Weeds of the Northeast by Uva, Neal and DiTomasso, that offers a page of extensive information of about 160 weeds, and a facing page of photographs showing those weeds in their various stages of development and flower form from baby seedling to seed at the end of the season. I use this book to identify my weeds and I have a substantial collection. I keep hoping that naming my weeds will give me power over them.

Some weeds like nettles, lambs quarters, hairy galinsoga with its tiny white flowers and bedstraw were common problems in my Heath garden but have not appeared in Greenfield. I cannot tell you why.

The most prolific weed in my garden is probably the common violet which fills the south border and fights to enter the other beds as well. However, I have also identified broadleaf plaintain, dock, ground ivy, mullein, Pennyslvania smartweed which is quite a pretty plant, prostrate spurge, Virginia creeper, bindweed, moneywort, purslane, woodsorrel, white clover, vetch, garlic mustard, and mugwort. These are not the only weeds in my garden, but I cannot identify any others.

Garlic mustard is the most dangerous weed in my garden. I have no idea where it came from. I saw it for the first time in my garden last year and I did not recognize the leaves. They were nice leaves, and I have been known to forget what I planted where so I let it grow. Fortunately for me when I asked a visiting friend if she recognized the plant she gasped and ordered me to pull it up immediately. I have never seen it bloom in my garden, but I have found those leaves coming up here and there. I continue pulling them up.

Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, is an aggressive invasive plant that originated in Eurasia. It was originally imported as a garden herb and salad green. Now it can take over woodlands where beautiful spring blooms like trilliums, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches and others bloom. They outcompete these spring beauties taking up light, moisture and space. Deer can eat plants around the garlic mustard, giving it more space to spread. Other creatures who depend on spring natives for their food, foliage or nectar and such, are then out of luck. I continue to pull up this weed, and wonder where it came from and how it comes up here and there in the garden.

Some of my weeds do not trouble me too much. I am loosing the battle with violets, and console myself with the thought that their pretty flowers feed the pollinators in season, and cover the ground – so  that other more noxious weeds cannot get a foot hold. As for white clover, I do not even consider it a weed. It is an important plant in my lawn and is also a pollinator plant. My husband likes it so much he has used it where we are replanting sections of lawn.

That brings up the question – what is a weed – really? The best description is simply a plant that is growing where we do not want it. We want the clover.

Once we identify what we consider a weed we need to find a way to get rid of it. We can always pull up our weeds and put them on the compost pile, but we should not put plants gone to seed in the compost, because the heat in most compost bins is not hot enough to kill the seeds. We should always try to get rid of our weeds before they set seed.

A new suggestion is to cut down the foliage of a weed. If this is done two or three times the roots will have been starved of nutrition and die.

Wendy and her mini-dragon

Wendy and her mini-dragon

My neighbor bought a flame thrower and has been using it to eradicate the weeds in her gravel driveway. The weeds bothered her sufficiently that she was considering paving the driveway, which would not only have been an expense, it would have been an impermeable surface and would not keep our rains on site instead of sending it into the storm drains.

She gave us a demonstration showing that the flame thrower does not need to burn the weed to ash. The flame is so hot that it will not only burn the foliage, it will also kill the roots. The small propane tank holds about two hours of flame, but a larger canister can be hooked up to the torch.

Horticultural vinegar is not an herbicide but just a few drops on the center of a weed will kill it the same way a chemical herbicide kills a plant.

Weeds will always be with us. We can mulch, but seeds are always in the air and will find a place to root.  However, we can control them and we can do it without  using poisons.

Between the Rows   August 5, 2017

4 comments to Weeds in My Garden

  • I have every weed in my garden that you named except the mustard. Luckily the mustard hasn’t found my garden yet. It is a pest in many areas around here. A friend of mine fights it in her woodland area. I have always liked the flowers of the smart weed. I think they are unusual. Too bad it trys to take over an area if you let it grow. The Wandering Jew plant with those beautiful blue flowers make me want to let it grow but I know better. It would take over everything. I just read that it is edible too. Who knew?? not me.

  • Martha

    I wish people would not scorn every unintended species in their yards, lawns and driveways, or if they can’t live with them, at least try methods like the the flame thrower and other natural products that are available, or just good old fashioned hand weeding. I am dismayed by the widespread use of products such as Monsanto’s Round Up, and how they are touted by many in the landscaping industry as being safe and environmentally friendly. My own yard borders a stream and woodlands, and violets are one the many “weeds” that grow there. They fill my lawn with beautiful blue and white flowers in the spring, and we actually encourage them and mow around them. I also have plantain, dandelions, clover, ground ivy and all manner of other things, and it’s OK with me. I consider it part of the biodiversity of a healthy habitat and enjoy seeing the pollinator insects that it encourages. Plantain is also useful as a healing herb.

  • Smartweed. I never knew the name so thanks for that. I dislike weeds but have two neighbors either side who grow nothing but weeds. It is a real battle, but if I don’t keep fighting my yard will be nothing but dandelions, nightshade, and glossy buckthorn trees.

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