(HOST) Commentator Henry Homeyer has some practical advice about weed management for gardeners who want to get the most enjoyment out of what’s left of the summer.
(HOMEYER) As threats, I think weeds are over-rated.
Some gardeners treat them like vermin infected with the plague. Not me. It’s mid-summer, the weather’s been wonderful, and I, for one, don’t need anything hanging over my head like a dark cloud. I can get along with some weeds – and my plants can, too.
I recently taught some gardening workshops at my home, and a few of the participants seemed a little surprised to see that I had weeds. I thought the place looked pretty good – I’d done quite a bit of weeding in preparation for the arrival of guests. But I will ALWAYS have weeds.
Of course, some weeds are worse than others. I think it’s important to know about my weeds, so I watch them carefully to learn their habits. I have lots of jewel weed or touch-me-not because I don’t consider it a threat, it’s handsome, and children love the seed pods. It grows in shady areas, growing tall – up to five feet – with hollow, watery stems. It’s related to Impatiens, that bedding plant that garden centers sell for shady nooks. The wild weedy one comes with small orange and yellow blossoms. They form seed pods that, when ripe, explode on contact with the fingers of a child. A proud Grampy, I can’t wait to introduce them to my almost three-year old grandson, George.
On the other hand, gout weed and its green and white-leafed relative, Bishop’s weed, are horrible. Unlike Jewelweed, these demons spread by root. They’ll grow in sun or shade, wet or dry – a sure sign of a plant thug. Bishop’s weed is still sold in some garden centers, even though it’s on Vermont’s Invasives list.
Goutweed has leaves of three. Each leaf has two or three leaflets with toothed edges a bit like maple leaves. It forms colonies that will smother other plants, even though they’re only a foot tall. Bishops’s weed looks goutweed, but the leaves have white portions mixed with the green, and it’s a little less invasive. Any plant with variegated leaves is less vigorous than its all-green parents – after all, it’s the green part of the leaf that makes the food.
Goutweed and Bishop’s weed have thick white roots that are quite brittle. I once tried weeding an iris patch that had become infested with Goutweed. But each scrap of root started a new plant that soon thrived. Ultimately I removed everything, soil included. I put down weed mat, brought in new soil, and treated the roots and soil like toxic waste – I bagged it, and left the bags in a far corner of my property. Even now, six or seven years later, I’m afraid to use that soil as fill dirt for fear of re-infecting a flower bed.
George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is a great song, with a great message. It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy. I say, let’s keep it that way. A few weeds? No big deal.
Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist.