Weeds of May.
My weeding plan, as I outlined in the posts Weeds and Weeds of April, is to work at eradicating weeds from the gardens based on a weed hierarchy. I give the worst weeds a 10 and the fairly insignificant weeds, so far as my garden is concerned, a 1 or even a big fat 0.
I’m eager to identify weeds since, as Sara Stein writes in My Weeds: a Gardener’s Botany, naming has power. Identifying weeds gives me power to eradicate them. I believe this. However, if I can’t identify a bothersome weed, I will name it Anonymous, or Nobody, as Stein does, while I work toward a better understanding of it, including its correct name.
Power over weeds also comes from figuring out the best way to attack them. Do I need to worry about rhizomes breaking off underground? Like mugwort. Then I need to attack the rhizomes with a hand tool and my gloved fingers. Any other method will simply help the weed to multiply. Some weeds with fibrous roots that reproduce through seeding, like chickweed, can be scraped off with a collinear hoe. I least I think so. Some with a long taproot, like dandelions, need to be dug with a garden fork. And on and on.
Just because a weed was a certain number in my weed hierarchy in a previous month doesn’t mean that it will remain the same. I gave chickweed a 3 in April, so cute and lush. Perfect for the compost pile. As will be seen below, I’ve spent time distinguishing it from other similar weeds and learning more about its habits, so now I’ve upped chickweed to a 6 for May.
As is true for this blog in general, I am not an expert at gardening, or identifying weeds, or birds, or native species. I know some things better than others. I have my share of misinformation, which I will try to correct when I can figure it out. I’m learning by doing. That’s a trial-and-error proposition right there.
In February and March, I spent many happy hours reading books about various gardening subjects and watching and taking photos of birds at the feeders through my living room window. Now, in April and May, I am spending many happy hours doing a multitude of tasks in my garden. I have more time this year than I have had previously to spend outside, but I still have other responsibilities. Who doesn’t. So reading and researching now are on a back burner because I’d rather be doing. I’m trying not to give up on writing posts, but in truth I haven’t written as many posts so far in May as I did in March and April.
Yet, I am amazed at how important my blog has become to me. It started as a private blog because I wanted to learn blogging and find my blogging voice before I went public. Whether private or public, I’m using the blog personally to remind myself of gardening goals, and also as the garden diary that I always knew I should keep but never did.
The blog has also helped me to be more observant of plants, birds, and insects in the gardens. I’m realizing stuff about weeds, for example, that totally escaped me in other years. So, knowledge is power, and the blog is helping me to be more observant. There’s something too about the way WordPress plus my Canon PowerShot and IPhoto on my recently acquired MacBook Pro all mesh together to make writing posts seamless. The whole process can be time-consuming, but not frustrating.
I won’t say that I’m all that good at any of it, but it feels creative, and I like that.
OK. Back to the weeds of May.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is a still a big, bad 10. The comforting thing about mugwort in my garden is that it is not pervasive. Although I find it in several spots, like cracks in the driveway, mostly it’s concentrated in the raspberry patch. The photo above is of some thriving mugwort in an area of the raspberry patch where I dug it thoroughly last week. I’m telling you. Thoroughly. This is the situation with mugwort.
Giving it a 10 in my weed hierarchy means that I must drop anything I’m doing when I see mugwort and give it my full attention until it is eradicated. That doesn’t mean it won’t be back next week, but for this moment and this day, I have eradicated every plant and root and rhizome of mugwort that I can find. That’s the 10 strategy. Obviously, there’s not enough time in a day to give every weed the 10 treatment.
I’ve seen ugly mugwort patches in August, and I don’t want that in my garden.
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are still a 10, but, as I explained in the post Weeds of April, I religiously dig dandelions first thing every morning mostly to pacify my herbicide-loving neighbors. My garden will not be overrun by dandelion puffballs. No sir. It’s also the case that I don’t care for zillions of dandelions in any yard or park either. But I do love a few dandies in the spring.
Now that I’ve learned through many years of experience just how to dig them with a garden fork, I actually enjoy the process, which I explained in the post Weeds of April. I don’t think my method takes any longer than getting out the herbicide sprayer takes. Cheaper too.
Dandelions are a 10 simply because I make them a priority every spring morning. They will be dug before anything else is done in the gardens, unless, of course, I happen to see some mugwort.
Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsute) is new to me. Now that I have identified it, with the help Weeds of the Northeast, I have given it a 10 in my weed hierarchy.
I was weeding the beds along the driveway, a very hot and dry spot, when I came across this weed in a patch of chickweed, which had what looked to me like needles, such as can be seen in the photo above. When I pulled the weed, the needles exploded. There’s no other word for it. They rattled, and then they exploded, presumably sending seeds everywhere.
According to Weeds of the Northeast, the needles, as I at first called them, are actually siliques, which have 2 valves that coil as they mature, making them explosively dehiscent, propelling seeds over 3 meters, or almost 10 feet, from the plant. Yikes. Terrorism by plant. I have now found hairy bittercress in many areas of the garden, usually among the chickweed. Needless to say, I carefully pulled and disposed of it in trash cans to curbside. So far, I haven’t seen another one explode. I think because the hot and dry conditions of the driveway have not been replicated in other areas. Has hairy bittercress always been in my garden, or is it a new arrival. Unfortunately, I don’t know. As I said, it is a new 10 in my weed hierarchy. So many 10s. So little time.
Common chickweed (Stellaria media). Chickweed is a winter annual in mild climates. Now that I think about it, I’ve seen little chickweed plants in the winter and early spring. I could scrape them off with the collinear hoe early on, even while the ground is still frozen. Wonder if that would kill them or if they would come back. Hmm.
Also, I’ve noticed that mowing chickweed simply causes it to hug the ground in a thick mat rather than send stems upward or outward. At least that’s what happens right after mowing. Makes it much harder to pull. I would say don’t mow chickweed when it can be avoided.
According to a Penn State Extension fact sheet, common chickweed has a single line of white hairs growing along the stem, as perhaps can be seen in the photo above. The line alternates between nodes from one side to the other.
The little white chickweed flowers have 5 petals that look like 10 because they are deeply indented, as in the photo above. Common chickweed grows best in moist conditions, forming thick mats from which stems spread out as much as 15 inches to form roots at each node that touches the ground.
Common chickweed is native to Europe. Although it can be a serious weed problem in cereal crops, some vineyards in the Rhine Valley use chickweed as a ground cover to prevent erosion. It is used in Scandinavia as a ground cover in orchards.
Chickweed seed is an important food for wildlife, providing food for birds in early spring. A few seed pods can be seen in the photo above. The seed pods form at the same time that the flowers appear. Perhaps the robins out in the fields in early spring are looking for chickweed seed rather than worms. Hmm. I need to watch next spring to see how early chickweed flowers and forms seed pods.
The Penn State Extension fact sheet had one intriguing suggestion for ridding turf grass of chickweed. Crush chickweed by stepping on it. Then sprinkle a little soluble nitrogen fertilizer on it. This will burn the chickweed enough to kill it. Some grass may get burned as well but will recover since it is a perennial. The fertilizer will wash down into the soil and fertilize the grass as it is meant to do. My chickweed is mostly in garden areas, so this won’t work for me, but it’s an interesting idea for spot eradication in grasses. It might work on creeping Charlie in grass. Hmm.
The Penn State Extension fact sheet is most informative and nicely written for the layperson. Before I came upon the Penn State sheet in my online search for common chickweed, I discovered many things about chickweed from many different sources. You know how that goes with a search. For example, it is good in salads, can be used topically for abscesses and eczema, and is good for constipation and weight reduction. Chickweed seeds are sold online. Yikes. Only one site selling seed that I noticed warned that chickweed may be invasive. Intermingled with the sites selling chickweed seeds and the extension sites providing botanical information were several sites selling glyphosate, a.k.a. Roundup, for guaranteed easy eradication. Thanks anyway. Not interested.
Concentrating on eradication without herbicides, I found some sites warning that the entire plant with root must be dug. One site recommended mowing as an eradication method. Perhaps scraping chickweed off at ground level with the collinear hoe is not a good idea, but so far the chickweed has not regrown, so I will consider that an experiment. Wait and see. As far as mowing chickweed is concerned, it seems to me that after mowing the plant regrows quickly in a more compact, ground-hugging form, which is impossible to pull. I wouldn’t recommend mowing chickweed any more than need be. As I have said, most of my chickweed is in garden areas, not in grass.
In the last few days, I have given chickweed much more attention, through reading and research as well as pulling it or scraping it off at ground level with the collinear hoe. It should probably go curbside due to the seed pods, which is unfortunate. So much lush green matter lost to the compost pile. Oh well.
Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), also known as ground ivy, still gets a 5 in my weed hierarchy. This insidious little weed is still hiding out under daffodils, twining through white clover, penetrating the area we mow and call a lawn. It’s everywhere. As I explained in the post Weeds of April, creeping Charlie is a 5 only because making it a 10 would mean I could never do anything else in the gardens. Nothing. It is pervasive.
My only new ploy for creeping Charlie is to pay particular attention to the the purple blooms. When I see a patch of purple blooms, I spend more time digging it out. As an added nuance in the Charlie game, I pay greater attention to purple Charlie blossoms in the perennial beds or the vegetable garden rather than in the grass. However, when I’m digging broadleaf plantains with the dandelion tool, I sometimes dig clumps of Charlie in the grass too. I know that this may break off stems that will regrow, but it does get the roots. So, another experiment. If digging Charlie in grass with the dandelion tool slows its growth considerably, then I should continue the practice. If the Charlie comes back more lush than ever, It’s not a good idea.
I could just admit defeat with creeping Charlie right now, but I’ll keep playing games at least until next month. The only thing I know for sure is that creeping Charlie will be worse next month.
Broadleaf plantains (Plantago major), were a 3 in April and still are in May. However, I’m getting worried. I think there must be twice as many plantains as last year, mostly in the area we mow and call a lawn. Because broadleaf plantains multiply mostly by seed, and their seed pods, which will develop later in the summer, are impressive if not awesome, they may be deserving of a higher number in my weed hierarchy.
The problem with plantains is that I’ve always dug them with a dandelion tool, as I wrote about in the post Weeds of April. When the ground is dry and compacted, as the ground is around the plantains, it’s impossible to pull them with the dandelion tool. I’ve tried digging some plantains with the old standby, the garden fork, but the hard soil made even that difficult.
We need a good rain.
At the risk of running up the water bill, I sometimes set a oscillating sprinkler on a small area of grass for a half hour or so. This is enough to loosen the dry, compacted soil so that the dandelion tool works to pull the plantains, fibrous roots and all. So, at the end of a busy day in the gardens, it’s rather relaxing to dig the plantains with the dandelion tool. No stooping required. Sprinkling has cooled the area on the hotter days. Believe it or not, we’ve had a series of 80° F. days here in May. I set my daily goal for one 5-gallon bucket full of plantains with soil attached. Because there are no seed pods yet, it’s safe to dump them into the compost pile. Just be sure to bury them in the middle of the pile.
Other nuisance weeds are still around. I don’t have weeding time or inclination to worry about them so far. Wild mustard, a 2. Garlic mustard, a 1. Blue violets, a 0. Garlic mustard blossoms, as seen above, are really quite lovely. I’m getting attached to them. Perhaps I’ll make garlic mustard a big fat 0 and start researching it as an herb not a weed. Garlic mustard. It sounds delicious.
Asiatic dayflowers (Commelina communis) are a new 0 this month in my weed hierarchy. They are just starting to grow, as can be seen above. I know a gardener in Chicago who plants Asiatic dayflowers as a ground cover, not considering them to be weeds at all. I sometimes wonder if the previous owner of my garden might have done the same. If Asiatic dayflowers know their place and stay out of the vegetable garden, I will agree. So, not a high priority except for keeping them from using nutrients and water intended for vegetables. When Asiatic dayflowers are mature, they have a little blue flower that is quite fetching. Perhaps Asiatic dayflowers should be called wildflowers. As such, they would be controlled, but not eradicated. Hmm.
May 17. We had 1″ of rain last night. So wonderful. So badly needed. The plants in my garden look grateful, and I am too.
Yesterday, May 16, I identified another weed. That makes 2 identifications for May. First, hairy bittercress, as mentioned above, and now corn speedwell (Veronica arvensis). I identified both weeds with the help of Weeds of the Northeast, which has become my goto weed book. Once I find a possible photo and description in a book, I go online to verify the identification. Usually, the many photos and descriptions online reassure me that the identification is correct. Or not.
Corn speedwell (Veronica arvensis), as seen in the photo above, is a winter annual that’s often found in the same neighborhood as common chickweed and hairy bittercress. Like chickweed, it forms a thick mat with stems radiating from the base. It has tiny pale blue flowers and fibrous roots. It’s easily pulled or scraped with the collinear hoe, the same as common chickweed.
I can’t describe how exciting it is to me to discover the name of a common weed in my gardens. Like Keats on first looking into Chapman’s Homer. Like discovering the planet Uranus. Like Cortez discovering the Pacific, except it was Balboa. I’m a weed explorer. I make discoveries, even if other people made them first and wrote about them in books or online. Sounds strange, I know, but the process of identifying even a common weed is exciting. Corn speedwell. A friend thought it sounded like the name of a spy. Corn Speedwell. A 3 in my weed hierarchy, for this month as least.
Right now, so far as weeds are concerned, I’m most worried about mugwort, creeping Charlie, hairy bittercress, and broadleaf plantains. That’s more than enough to take up all of my weeding time.