Weeds of July.
Weeds have their seasons just as trees, flowers, and vegetables do. The smaller, cuter weeds of spring, like chickweed and purple deadnettle, have given way to bigger, uglier varieties, like crabgrass and prostrate knotweed. Even creeping Charlie, always with us, gets bigger and more pervasive as the season progresses. Even mugwort, which is horrible if allowed to persist through the summer, starts out as small rhizomous plants that can fool a gardener into complacency.
In spring, many weeds go into the compost pile because no seeds are in evidence. Weeds for curbside pickup by the town are contained in a single trash can along with branches and other garden debris. Now, in July, almost no weeds go to the compost pile. Seed pods and seedheads are everywhere. Small weeds often spring up where large weeds were pulled and immediately form seeds. They are the last best hope for their species’ survival in the garden. It’s war. War between the weeds and me.
6 trash cans now line up for curbside pickup every week. I like to use old trash cans with holes in the bottom so that rain water will drain out of them. If I had more time and more old trash cans, or maybe a hired gardener or 2, I could put more weeds curbside, and this is just a little garden area remember. As I’ve written in other weed posts, I have a utopian 7-year plan to eradicate weeds from my garden without using herbicides, which is remarkable for me because I usually subscribe to the green banana strategy for old-age living. The green banana strategy is simple. Don’t buy green bananas since you may not be around to eat them when they ripen. Or don’t buy a full tank of gas. Or don’t sign up for 3-month prescription programs for medicines. Lots of variations on a theme. I guess you could call that living in the present. Living in the present is not a bad philosophy for any age, but visualizing a weed-free garden in 7 years time seems good too. So, my 7-year commitment to achieving a weed-free garden is a positive thing. Like planting a white oak acorn, which I plan to do this fall if I can find one.
Back to weeds. To set those trash cans out in the evening and get them back empty early the next morning is one of the few good reasons I can think of for paying property taxes. It’s nice to live in a town that provides that service.
So, here is a rundown of the most bothersome July weeds. Most of them are well-known characters, but there are a few that I had some fun identifying. More about that later. I use a weed hierarchy in my weed eradication campaign, as I wrote about in the post Weeds. Some weeds get a 10, which means that when I see them I must drop whatever I’m doing and pull them or dig them. A 5 probably means that I would like to eradicate them immediately but to do so is impossible time-wise. Creeping Charlie is a prime 5 example. A 1 in my weed hierarchy probably means that I think of them more as wildflowers–good to have in the garden but don’t forget to control them, usually by cutting them off before they go to seed.
Broadleaf plantains (Plantago major L.) were an 8 in the weed hierarchy last month but are a 10 now. I use a dandelion/plantain tool to pull them when possible. Please see the post Weeds of June for a photo of this handy tool. Plantains have a fibrous root system without a taproot that makes this tool actually better for plantains than for dandelions. As seen in the photo above, plantains develop awesome seed pods in July that let me know they plan to take over my garden in 7 years or sooner.
Smaller plantains often grow where large plants were pulled. They immediately develop seed pods since they are also intent upon survival of their species in my garden. The smaller ones can usually be pulled by hand, particularly after a rainstorm.
Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) is a horrible weed. In the photo above, crabgrass is lurking beneath a patch of chickweed. I keep crabgrass at an 8 in my weed hierarchy only because it is so difficult to dig, particularly when the soil is dry, that there is not time enough to eradicate all of it. I do my best. Not too many crabgrass seedheads have appeared yet, but they will, and they are scary for sure.
Well, I just took a little time out from this post to do some weeding, and guess what. I found a huge crabgrass seedhead in the sweet pepper patch. Look at it. Photo above. Scary, as I said before. Soon they will be everywhere I look.
When crabgrass plants grow into a mat of weeds, they can be almost impossible to dig out. The garden fork is the best tool for the job, but plan to get frustrated, particularly when a desirable plant is growing in the midst of the crabgrass, such as the asparagus in the photo above.
Above is a photo of 3 awful weeds of July. Crabgrass at top of photo and broadleaf plantain at bottom, plus a sprig of prostrate knotweed seen in the lower left corner. What a trio of weed-free dream busters.
Prostrate knotweed (Polygonum avoculare) was a 10 in my weed hierarchy in June. Ha. Fat chance I have of dropping everything to pull or dig prostrate knotweed. So, it goes into a 5 category with the likes of creeping Charlie. Maybe next year. Prostrate knotweed worries me because it’s more pervasive this year than last. It grows in the most compacted and dry parts of the area we mow and call a lawn. By the entry gate. Along a path worn by Daisy playing fetch. It has a fine taproot plus fibrous roots. The plants grow close together, making them very difficult to pull or dig. I poured vinegar on an area by the entry gate, as was described in the post Weeds of June. The vinegar killed the prostrate knotweed, and it didn’t come back. I may try that strategy again on areas where other more desirable plants aren’t present. Maybe on areas, like Daisy’s path, that might better be made permanent paths with wood chips or mulch.
Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), the other knotweed discussed in the Weeds of June post, of course remains a 10. A 10 times 10. Only small shoots, 1 of which is shown in the photos above, appear in a corner of my garden, but that means the rhizomes are invading my property from the municipal park behind my garden. It’s troublesome that Japanese knotweed is invading the local parks and nothing is being done about it.
Back to another 10. Hairy galinsoga (Galinsoga ciliata). In the photo above some leggy galinsoga is hiding out between the bee balm and a blueberry bush. As I wrote in the post Weeds, it was named for Mariano Martinez de Galinsoga, founder and director of the Madrid Botanical Garden, in the 18th century. The name has sometimes been vulgarized into “gallant soldier,” but none of these names suits it well. It’s also known as quickweed, which is an apt name. Galinsoga seeds do not need a dormancy period and can germinate soon after shedding, according to Weeds of the Northeast, allowing for several generations in one season. It is sometimes claimed that galinsoga seeds germinate as they are falling to the ground. Hence the name quickweed. Galinsoga was one of the first weeds unknown to me that I identified by searching through weed books and online websites, so it’s something of a favorite of mine, although of course a terrible nuisance as well. It’s the devil I know.
Galinsoga is easy to pull if it is grasped close to the ground below the first branches. The small plants that reseed are pesky. There are so many of them, and of course they immediately flower and go to seed, even when they are only an inch or so high, as can be seen in the photo above. So, what else is new.
Smartweed, or Pennsylvania smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum), is still around too. It supposedly gets its name because it stings when touched, but I have not experienced this stinging. Wherever galinsoga is growing, most probably some smartweed will be found as well. Smartweed is easily recognized by its small dark pink bloom, as seen in the photo above. It’s easy to pull and not so pervasive as galinsoga. I gave it an 8 in my weed hierarchy last month, but compared with all my other weed problems, I’ll make it a 5 this month and pull it whenever I bend down to pull something else, probably galinsoga.
A close look at the photo above gives an idea of what I’m up against in my weeding campaign. In addition to the smartweed, creeping Charlie, prostrate knotweed, broadleaf plantains, and a dandelion can be identified. This reminds me of Mrs. Magnus Olson, who wrote a letter to Organic Gardening magazine in 1971, saying when she reaches down to pull 1 weed, she stays down until she has pulled 10, and in this way she achieves a weed-free garden. When I first read about Mrs. Olson in a recent collector’s issue of the magazine, I was somewhat amused by her weed game, or strategy. But it does work. Why bother bending over for just 1 weed. Grab 10 to make that bend worthwhile.
Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) continues as a 10 in my weed hierarchy. It grows in the rhododendron and pachysandra in front of the house. The photo above shows hedge bindweed on a rhododendron still suffering from winter kill. There’s no chance of eradicating hedge bindweed, I fear. Control is the key. I do a hedge bindweed patrol once a week or so, pulling out any bindweed as close to the ground as possible to try to get some roots, and dispose of the vines curbside. The weekly patrol doesn’t take long. Without doing it, however, hedge bindweed can become a problem for sure.
What I thought was hedge bindweed out in the old apple tree area turns out to be wild buckwheat (Polygonum convolvulus). They are quite similar, but their blossoms differ. Hedge bindweed has a morning glory-type blossom, while wild buckwheat has inconspicuous, greenish white blooms on racemes starting from the leaf axils. This description was found in Weeds of the Northeast. I don’t have a photo of hedge bindweed blossoms since I try to pull it before it ever gets to the blossom stage. The photo above is of a wild buckwheat vine that was pulled out. If you look closely, you may be able to see the small blossoms in the leaf axils.
Tumble pigweed (Amaranthus albus) has made its appearance in my garden. It’s ugly, but it’s not pervasive. I certainly don’t want it to spread. I give it a 10 because there’s not much of it and pulling it is pretty easy at this point. Next month, I may not be so positive about my ability to pull it all. Of course it goes straight to curbside for town pickup.
Carpetweed (Mollugo verticillata) at top left above and common purslane (Portulaca oleracea) at bottom left seem like unobtrusive weeds just now. Not wildflowers, but interesting weeds that don’t seem to hurt anything. For now. They seem to grow together–along with a little creeping Charlie, as can be seen in the photo above right. I wonder if there’s such a thing as companion weeds. Hmm. I’m happy to know their names, and I’ll keep an eye on them. So, for now, I’ll give them a 1 or even a 0. And probably change my mind next month. They are weeds after all.
I get tired of pulling and digging weeds. Identifying weeds and writing posts about them definitely helps. I have something to think about while I’m pulling and digging. But the thing that keeps me going best is reading what other naturalists and gardeners have written about weeds. Thoreau, Michael Pollan, Mrs. Magnus Olson, Barbara Damrosch, Eliot Coleman, Sara Stein. Richard Mabey. All these authors have written about weeds on farms and in gardens.
I am currently rereading The Gardener’s Bed-Book, by Richardson Wright. It was originally published in 1929. A great thing about garden books–the old ones can be as informative and interesting as the most recent ones. Richardson Wright was editor-in-chief of House & Garden for many years. He lived with his wife in an old farmhouse in Connecticut. While he did have a gardener, he seemed to be very hands-on in his gardens. The Gardener’s Bed-Book is a series of very short essays on garden-related topics, one for each day of the year, to be used as bedtime reading. After each short essay, Wright leaves the reader with a reminder of things to be done tomorrow pertaining to the gardens. Here are some of his dictums on weeds and weeding. On April 23: Weed all borders thoroughly, as a weed caught in time saves nine. On August 5: Tomorrow go forth for the fifteenth time and slay weeds. This warfare allows no respite. On October 5: Maintain the slaughter of weeds, especially in beds and borders and edges of the Cutting Garden.
Wright says nothing about weed-free gardens. His war on weeds appears to be in all seasons but winter and for all time. I’m still hoping to diminish the number of weeds in my garden year by year. But time will tell. In the meanwhile, I’m happy to know how other gardeners wage war on weeds and live to write about it.