(HOST) Tall weeds like purple loosestrife are getting ready to spread their seeds, and commentator Henry Homeyer advises cutting them down to keep seeds from getting into your soil –
even if it means a little less time in the pond on a hot sunny day.
(HOMEYER) It’s midsummer, and we’ve had our share of hot, sticky days. Days when the hammock or the pond are more inviting than the garden. But it’s important to keep up with the weeds, no matter what.
The real problem weeds are just now starting to bloom, hoping to add their seeds to your soil. A little preventive maintenance will save you work in future years. Don’t let them drop their seeds if you can help it.
If you have any wet places on your property, you probably know about purple loosestrife. It’s that gorgeous pinky-purple tall flower with a square stem. It’s a real thug, an invader from Europe. It’ll take over wet places, choking out native plants and eliminating the foods favored by birds and other animals.
Purple loosestrife can reproduce by seed, or by spreading out its roots. A mature plant can produce up to 2.5 million seeds a year, and these seeds have a very long shelf life. They can remain in a dormant form for several years, only germinating after the soil has been disturbed. They’re small seeds, easily transported by wind, water, birds or people.
So what can you do about purple loosestrife if it’s shown up on your property? Cut it down. If you have just a few plants, start by making bouquets. It’s a nice cut flower and looks good in a vase. More importantly, cutting the plant to the ground prevents it from completing the seed-formation cycle, spreading seeds on your property and downstream.
Digging up purple loosestrife, however, leaves a disturbed area in which seeds left in previous years can germinate and grow. So it’ll be back – whether by seed or by the scraps of roots that are inev- itably left behind when you pull it. Obviously, you shouldn’t use herbicides in a wetland.
If you cut the tops off your plants, don’t compost them if they’ve started blooming. Many weeds can ripen their seeds even after they’ve been pulled. I have no information specific to loosestrife, but given its persistent nature, it seems likely that it would fall in that category.
Other weeds getting ready to release their seeds are curly dock, wild parsnips and, in shady places, touch-me-nots. Of those three, wild parsnips are the worst. They’re three to four feet tall with yel- low flowers arranged in flat-topped clusters of tiny flowers, similar to Queen Anne’s Lace. They have deep tap roots. Some people are severely allergic to the juice of the wild parsnip, which can cause severe burns and blisters. If you want to cut these down or pull them, you must wear protective clothing unless you know that you don’t react to it.
In the long run, the weeds will always win. You can’t eliminate them entirely. But if you keep them from going to seed, you’ll mini- mize their spread. And that means more time in the hammock or floating in the pond.
This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, N.H.
Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.