Weeds in My Garden


nettles and jewelweed
Nettles and Jewelweed

Weeds. The weeds are thriving in my garden. In the middle of August when we are getting ready for the Heath Fair there is no longer even a pretense that I am keeping up with the weeds. This week I am resolved to begin a major weeding.

One friend I met at the Fair said she had given up weeding for the season and would worry about it next spring. I understand the feeling, but there is a benefit to weeding in late summer and fall. As I walk around the garden I can see the weeds setting seed. If I can pull those weeds now before the seeds disperse I can reduce the number of  weeds sprouting in the spring.

I made a little catalog of the weeds in my garden this fall. To begin with, in the corner of the Potager, behind my two compost piles are giant nettles and jewelweed. These are two of the most easily identified weeds. People learn to identify stinging nettles pretty quick, after only one or two run-ins.

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) spread by rhizomes and by seeds. A double threat invasive weed. It is growing beyond its typical 6 foot height by the compost piles because nettles need good soil. Fortunately, they also make good compost fodder. They are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and nitrogen. Cut up the tall stalk and put them in your compost pile. Or you can make a fertilizer tea by chopping up the stalk and putting them in a pail, weighting them down and filling the pail with water. Put them aside for two or three weeks then use dilutions of this tea as fertilizer in the garden.

You can also make a tea for yourself from a couple of nettle leaves. Don’t let it steep too long or it will be bitter. I haven’t ever eaten nettles, but they are edible and can be used much as spinach is. I’m saving that experiment for another day.


Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), which is often found growing near nettles, is recognizable because of its spotted golden orange flowers and the milky juice from its tender stems. Jewelweed got its common name from the way that water beads up on its leaves, not because the flowers look so jewel-like (to me) in the sun. It thrives in sun or shade, and spreads by seed. Some people grow it on purpose! It is very pretty.

Butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to jewelweed. Children, parents and hikers like jewelweed because the juicy sap relieves the itch of nettles, insect bites and poison ivy. Native Americans had all kinds of medicinal uses for jewelweed.

Jewelweed is easy to pull up, and it can go onto the compost pile, although it will not add quite the nutritious wallop as nettles.

Milkweed has been getting lots of attention recently because it is an important food source for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. The Monarch population has been under siege for a number of years because of the loss of its tropical habitats. We used to have great clouds of Monarchs visit the end of the road where we had large stands of mint in the field. Mint is a nectar source for the butterflies. When hoping to attract butterflies we have to remember that we need to provide foliage for caterpillar food and nectar plants for the butterflies themselves.

I did see some butterflies on the milkweed blossoms this year, but only a lone Monarch or two anywhere in the garden or field.

I sacrificed my sugar snap pea bed to milkweed this year. We do not have a lot of milkweed in our fields so I thought I would let these milkweeds grow and then I would take the ripe seed pods out of the garden and release the seed in the fields. Next year I want to eat sugar snaps.

The pale green milkweed seed pods are fat and pretty, as is the silky floss that carries the seeds on the wind. That floss has been used to stuff pillows and mattresses. When we lived in New York City I did some research on herbs at the big New York Library on Fifth Avenue. It was there I found a book that said during World War II there was a shortage of material to stuff life jackets for sailors. The government turned to people in the country to collect milkweed floss as a substitute. It seems that milkweed floss is six times as buoyant as cork!


Hairy galinsoga is another rapacious weed in my garden. This is an annual weed that spreads by seed, and can actually seed several generations in one growing season. My excellent book, Weeds of the Northeast by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal and Joseph DiTomaso, says “it is one of the most difficult to control weeds of vegetable crops. . . . usually found on fertile soils.”  Well, I’m glad it’s presence in my garden indicates that I have fertile soil, but I have it growing in the vegetable garden, and most especially in the herb and flower beds.  Galinsoga is erect with branching stems, ovate, toothed leaves and tiny five rayed petals around a yellow disk. A single plant “can produce up to 7500 seeds.”

Galinsoga is listed on the online Invasive Plant Atlas so I throw the galinsoga into the compost pile and so far I haven’t found anyone with anything good to say about this weed.

I have lots of other weeds in my garden, lady’s bedstraw, pigweed, burdock, wild mustard, and more, but I prefer not to think of them today.


My column in The Recorder last week got many responses, from people who couldn’t believe I let my nettles get so out of control (they have since been pulled out) and others who just wanted to commiserate and talk about their own weeds. I also got a warning Saturday morning from my good neighbor Rol Hesselbart, known locally as the Garlic King. He said no one should ever put galinsoga on their compost pile. Galinsoga seeds are so vital that they will not be killed by the composting process because most compost does not get hot enough. Then wherever you use the compost it will carry all those still vital galinsoga seeds. I have taken his advice to heart, because he knows his weeds as well as he knows his garlic. I now have a Weed Pile near the Burn Pile. We must all pay attention. Do you think he is angling for the title of Weed King?

Between the Rows   August 23, 2014

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Lisa at Greenbow

    I like the Jewel Weed. It is such fun to see the hummingbirds work over the blooms. I have tried to get it to grow here and have failed. Nettles on the other hand have come in on their own. Bah humbug. A fight to the finish.

  2. Rose

    It’s been such a good year for the garden, but that means it’s also been a great year for the weeds. I have been battling them all summer, too, Pat, and may be losing the battle:) I don’t have any jewelweed here that I know of, but I certainly have some of the others. For the first time this year I have Common Evening Primrose growing in my garden, and when I discovered the seeds are viable in the soil for 70 years, I immediately decided to pull it out! I posted about a couple of my weedy wildflowers last week and was surprised how many people liked this plant and let it grow. It does have a pretty little bloom, but I don’t want it taking over. Burdock, though–there is nothing nice you can say about that. While I am constantly pulling weeds, I haven’t seen a sign of the milkweed seeds I purposely planted–just my luck:)

  3. Denise Hammond

    I have been enjoying Monarch butterflies every day. They love my Joe-Pye weed, which is six-feet tall now.

  4. Many years ago when I took the Master Gardener course in Mobile, Alabama, I learned a little saying, “A year of seed brings 7 years of weed.” While the saying’s accuracy may or may not be true, the thought process is enough to get me out and weeding as soon as I see seeds beginning to form. I never put a weed into my compost pile if it has flowers setting, let alone seeds. Too many weed plants can go ahead and complete their seed production after being pulled – typical of early successional stage plants – for me to keep track of which ones can perform this “magic trick”, so I just play it safe and put them all on our burn pile…or throw them into the trash. Good luck!

  5. Rol (the king)

    I have been “The Weed King” in the past. now people often marvel at our
    weedless garden. Determination, Perserverence and lots of time. Is all it takes to be WEEDFREE.

  6. epeavey1

    So many weeds here in North East Georgia to over running the garden, maybe a good burn would help next year.

  7. Pat

    Lisa – I like jewelweed and I am going to see if I can get the seeds to pop – a talent the plant has that gave it the name touch me not.
    Rose – I have been noticing evening primrose ever since I saw it on your blog. At least I can say that is one weed I do not have in my garden.
    Denise – I am jealous. Monarchs!
    Cynthia – I do have a Weed Pile, but I am now broader in my decisions about what to put on a weed pile. And I have bagged up and taken tansy plants and roots to the dump! I like your rhyme!
    Donna – Yes! Galinsoga on the weed pile.
    Rol – You have so much good advice. CAn you give me some of that ‘lots of time’.
    epeavey – I did admire a torch on a tool site!

  8. I don’t have jewelweed around my house, but I have friends who do, and a lady at our local farm market makes a salve out of it. I had a couple spots of poison ivy on my arm early in the summer, and used the salve. It did a great job of taking the itch away, and the rash didn’t spread. I am having bindweed issues in my rock garden this year. : (

  9. Rol

    Bindweed is almost impossible to get rid of! The roots are VERY FRAGILE so easily break off into small pieces. Even the smallest fragment left in the soil will then sprout at both ends and send up multiple plants. One corner of our garden is infested with it also. The best I can do is keep it under “control”

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