Weeds of June

Weeds of June.

Things are looking sinister on the weed front. New weeds, expected and unexpected, are making an appearance. The good news is that most of the weeds described in the post Weeds of May have faded from the scene.

Not creeping Charlie, of course. It just gets worse by the month, but remains a 5 in my weed hierarchy because it is so pervasive that I don’t have time to control it. How depressing.

As I explained in the post Weeds, I weed according to a weed hierarchy. 10 for the biggest and baddest weeds, and 1 or a big fat 0 for weeds that are not too bothersome in my garden.

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Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is still around in the usual places, the raspberry patch and cracks in the driveway. Above is a photo taken April 18 that shows it at its rhizomey worst. Now, it seems to be giving up on building rhizomes and is reappearing as single, more slender plants with fibrous roots that are relatively easy to pull. I hope and believe this is its last hurrah for this year.

Mugwort that has gotten established, such as the mugwort in the park, as shown in the above photos, is a different story. The mugwort in these photos stretches along the whole side of a large field in the park. It will keep getting bigger and thicker, and finally bloom, as the summer progresses.

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Here is mugwort in another park growing up in a little hedge around the fountain. It rather ruins the classic composition of the fountain and landscaping, don’t you think. Not my problem, except as a member of the community who would like our parks to be cared for properly.

This is a June 19 update. When the park was recently mowed, the mugwort in the photo above was removed. So, my apologies to the maintenance department for thinking they are neglectful of the park. Now if only they would do something about the mugwort and the Japanese knotweed in the other parks.

Mugwort in my garden is still a 10, mostly because I feel so satisfied that perhaps I have conquered it for this season. I still do mugwort patrols, which don’t take much time in June. Not that it won’t be back next year, but hopefully in a more limited capacity.

Weedfree in 7 years. That’s the goal. In 7 years, perhaps mugwort will be history in my garden at least.

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Dandelions are mostly gone for this season. Common chickweed, hairy bittercress, and corn speedwell are mostly dried up and full of seeds. The chickweed plant above isn’t dried up, but it’s big and full of seeds. When I find any of these seed-laden plants, I try to lift them carefully and get them into a trash can headed for curbside pickup. Of course, seeds are left behind. What more can a weeder do. Pull them earlier, that’s what.

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In Weeds of May, I wrote about discovering siliques on hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsute). Now it turns out that garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), as seen above, also has siliques, a linear pod containing seeds, and that siliques are common to the mustard family. The siliques make garlic mustard a little more sinister than the 1 given it in May in the weed hierarchy. Still, I can’t get too anxious about garlic mustard in my garden. It has confined itself to a couple of shady areas and is fairly easy to pull when I find the time to do so.

In June, corn speedwell (Veronica arvensis L.) plants are mostly dried up and full of seeds. The photos above show some that are not dried up. They are in the vegetable garden pathway, in amongst some clover. These particular corn speedwell plants bloomed more than any others I have noticed. They seem to like the clover environment.

Asiatic dayflowers and blue violets, which might be considered wildflowers, are growing rapidly. The Asiatic dayflowers, seen at left above with small blue flowers, are not pervasive enough to bother me. The blue violet plants, seen at right, so pretty in early spring, are becoming annoying. For every big violet plant that gets pulled, a dozen little plants spring up. The old apple tree area and the raspberry patch are particular blue violet breeding grounds. A few big blue violet plants are good in the spring. The little ones have to go. I give blue violets a 5 in the weed hierarchy this month and will spend as much time as I can in eradicating the little guys. This is best done with the garden fork, which goes deep enough to get the roots. Pulling them is a mistake since roots are then left behind to generate more little violet annoyances. The problem with wildflower weeds, such as these, is that they may be desirable, but they have to be controlled. Obviously, I’m conflicted about them. Sometimes I admire them. Other times, they are annoying.

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Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium), seen above, is a definite 10 now. Overnight it twines up through the rhododendron and lurks in the pachysandra. I pull it the minute I see it, even doing a bindweed patrol every few days to make sure I haven’t missed any. It has to be kept under control. That’s for sure. Some insect likes hedge bindweed, as the leaves are often riddled with holes. Does that mean that it is a native plant. I don’t know, but Go insect. Eat the bindweed. Hurrah. I hope I discover who you are one day.

Lots of 10s in June. An extremely troublesome one is Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum). There’s a patch of it in the park behind my garden, as seen in the photos above. Every summer, town maintenance crews or county prison work crews show up and cut it all down, but that doesn’t really solve the problem. I’ve read horrific articles about Japanese knotweed in Great Britain, most recently in the May 2015 issue of Harper’s magazine. For some period of time, I tried to convince myself that the weed in the park is not Japanese knotweed, but I think it is.

So, here’s the awful part. It shows up around my shed in the back corner of the garden closest to the park. I can pull it out, but obviously the rhizome is still there because it always comes back. All I can do is monitor it and never let any of the small plants grow large. It will always be control rather than eradication. A very scary invasive weed. A big double 10.

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There’s another knotweed in the gardens that warrants a 10, not so scary as Japanese knotweed but more pervasive than other years. So, a reason for concern. It’s prostrate knotweed (Polygonum avoculare). According to Weeds of the Northeast, it thrives in compacted soil areas and areas damaged by traffic or trampling. Prostrate knotweed showed up in the area we mow and call a lawn, mostly by the main gate into the garden and along a path worn into the grass by Daisy chasing her ball in multitudinous games of fetch. The photo above is of a prostrate knotweed plant pulled from the raspberry patch, a source of all weeds in my garden. The prostrate knotweeds in the area we mow and call a lawn are more compact because they are mowed regularly. As you can see in the photo above, prostrate knotweed has a fine taproot plus fibrous roots. The taproot makes pulling the weed difficult, particularly when the weeds have grown close together, making a formidable mat of weeds with taproots.

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Mature prostrate knotweed produces little pinkish-white flowers in the axils of the leaves, as can be seen in the photo above. The flowers are more like buds in the photo. Prostrate knotweed reproduces by seed. Once it gets established, it’s very difficult to eradicate, even with herbicides, which I don’t use. Pulling it is difficult because of the close-growing, fine taproots in the compacted soil. Of course, if a taproot breaks off, it will grow again. Really an ugly weed. Remediation of the soil would discourage both prostrate knotweed and creeping Charlie, so that’s what should be done in the area we mow and call a lawn.

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I tried spraying vinegar on the prostrate knotweed by the gate with rather remarkable results, as can be seen in the photo above. Vinegar certainly slows it done, but doesn’t eradicate it, unfortunately. It will be back. Vinegar should only be used in areas where no desirable plants are located. This area is covered with slate and stones, and so is a good spot for the vinegar treatment.

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Broadleaf plantains (Plantago major), are leftover from the Weeds of May list, where they were a 5, up from a 3 in Weeds of April. Now, I’m giving broadleaf plantains an 8 because they seem to be multiplying, mostly in the area we mow and call a lawn.

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My method of attack for plantains is the dandelion tool. I should start calling it the plantain tool since I don’t use it for dandelions but use it all the time for plantains. This is because a dandelion’s taproot will invariably break off using this tool. The garden fork pushed down alongside the dandelion’s taproot and rocked back and forth is much more effective in getting all the taproot. However, the fibrous roots of the plantain are pulled out with the dandelion/plantain tool in a most effective and satisfying manner. The uprooted plantains go into a 5-gallon bucket to be dumped into the compost pile. This practice can continue until the plantains develop their seed capsules, at which time they will have to be put out for curbside pickup by the town. It gets complicated.

New weeds in the gardens are multitudinous. Help.

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Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis), as seen above. What an awful weed. Very difficult to remove. It’s an 8 in my weed hierarchy only because I don’t have time to make it a 10. A sorrowful reason. It’s mostly in the old apple tree area. It’s best attacked with the garden fork, loosening the closely packed fibrous roots. It takes time. Very frustrating. I hate crabgrass.

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Hairy galinsoga (Galinsoga ciliata), or quickweed, was one of the first weeds I identified in the gardens. So exciting. I wrote in detail about identifying galinsoga in the post Weeds. Now, although it’s a nuisance and must be dealt with, galinsoga is the devil I know. It’s June. Here come the galinsoga. Oh, hello, galinsoga. Galinsoga cannot be put into the compost pile because its seeds germinate so rapidly, hence the common name of quickweed. This is unfortunate as the weed is quite lush and would provide good green stuff for the compost pile.

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Galinsoga is easily pulled if it is grasped close to ground level. It will break off if grasped above the first leaves on the stem, which occurs an inch or so above the ground, as can be seen in the photo above. Galinsoga is an 8 in my weed hierarchy and is best pulled early to try to stay one jump ahead of its quick germination habit. It seems to be particularly fond of fence rows and seems to love the sun.

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A close cousin of galinsoga, or quickweed, is smartweed, or Pennsylvania smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum), so called because it stings when touched, although I have not experienced this since I always wear gloves. I say it’s a close cousin of galinsoga not because they are the same genus, but because they show up at the same time of year and look alike, at least to me, when they are small. As they grow, it is easy to distinguish them from each other. Smartweed has a small pinkish-red flower that identifies it immediately when mature. Smartweed, like galinsoga, gets an 8 in my weed hierarchy. It’s easy to pull. Goes immediately into trash cans headed for curbside pickup. Basically an early summer nuisance.

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Thistles show up every year about this time in a front corner of the garden. Half of them are on my side of the fence and half on the neighbors. Probably 10 plants in all. Every year I pull them, but the next year they are back. I think they are bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare), which reproduce by seed. So why aren’t they eradicated if I pull them every year. Perhaps I miss 1 or 2. I give them a 1 in the weed hierarchy. They could be a serious weed, but since they stay put in a small area and can be pulled in 10 minutes time, they don’t require more than a 1 effort.

Here’s a fun weed/wildflower to write about. Bushy aster (Aster dumosus), as seen in the photos above. I found a description of bushy asters in the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Wildflowers. So wildflower or weed. That’s the question. I like bushy asters, but they do propagate themselves in an unseemly fashion. This year I compromised by leaving them alone for the most part until they had bloomed for a few days. Then, hopefully before they went to seed, I pulled them all out and sent them curbside for town pickup. I think this is a nice compromise for some wildflower weeds. Enjoy them, but don’t let them overrun the garden.

Chicory, seen above, certainly belongs in this category. Such an interesting plant with lovely blue flowers, but don’t let it go to seed. Lambs ear belongs in this category as well. All these wildflower weeds are a 1 in my weed hierarchy, only because they do have to be pulled, or cut in the case of chicory, and disposed of at the proper time. That’s easy to do. Wish all weeds could be so amenable.

OK. 1 more wildflower weed. Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), is a weed when it grows 2′ high and gets thicker by the year. Yet it has lovely blossoms, as can be seen in the photos above. Although it is not a native species, it is a host plant for lady beetles, so that’s a plus. It’s a interesting addition to that area we mow and call a lawn. I’m not interested in a perfect turf lawn. Too much fertilizer and herbicide involved in that. Also too much water. Clover, creeping thyme, Roman chamomile, and yarrow–all identified as weeds by many sources, seem to me to be possible additions to grass to make an area suitable for walking and playing fetch with Daisy. All of these weeds, kept under control by mowing, certainly would be excellent replacements for creeping Charlie. Much of the existing grass is tall fescue, in itself a weed by strict turf standards. It has a long tap root and doesn’t need watering once established.

So, I started this post with hints of doom and destruction in my vocabulary. Certainly, weeds like Japanese knotweed are worrisome, to say the least. But weeds are also interesting, and sometimes beautiful. Study a weed book for a time. Then pick up a wildflower book. Guess what. Pretty much the same lineup of culprits/beauties. This phenomenon deserves more attention in future posts. Right now, I need to do some weeding.

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