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Archive for Sunday, August 22, 1999

GARDEN SPOT

August 22, 1999

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Weeds are taking over our yards, leaving gardeners to pull and yank.

They're back. Actually, they never left. Emblazoned with telltale leaves and often unattractive flowers, weeds brashly barge their way into the garden and stubbornly stay put, despite attempts to eradicate them.

Their leaves come in all shapes and sizes and textures. Some have scales, others have hairy undersides and others may be smooth. The leaves may be notched, lobed, elliptical, star-shaped, heart-shaped, oval or oblong. And, I suppose that in some universe and by some standards the flowers may be nice to look at, but most gardeners would rather not see them.

Weeds may go by pleasant sounding names that betray their threatening ways, names such as yellow rocket, velvetleaf, Eastern nightshade, honeyvine and ladysthumb. For other weeds, the mere mention of their name sounds menacing -- cocklebur, witchweed, thistle and itchgrass. A few weeds are widely known by name such as dandelion, purslane, bindweed and ragweed.

Like cultivated flowers, weeds may be annuals or perennials. Annuals grow and produce seed every year, such as crabgrass and foxtail. Perennial weeds persist from year to year. A few weeds, such as wild carrot and some thistles, are biennial.

There are annual and perennial grass weeds and annual and perennial broadleaf weeds. Miscellaneous weeds include wild garlic, moss and algae.

Weeds often clutter flowerbeds with their unwanted presence. Left to their own devices, they choke out annuals and compete for soil nutrients with perennials. Their untamed growth totally covers up the more diminutive plants such as the delightful hens and chicks.

Weeds also like to gather in grass and creep in between the brick or stone pathways in the garden. They like to cozy up beside and between rocks that line flowerbeds. They climb fences and fence posts. They even manage to squeeze in the cracks of driveways and sidewalks.

Control freaks

Every year at this time the weeds in our garden seem to get out of control. Perhaps it's because I'm too tired at the end of the gardening season to weed. When it's so hot outside and when the chiggers get too bad, I pretty much halt my gardening. Surely, weeds know this and strike while the iron is hot.

In the sunniest part of our back yard, the weeds have enjoyed my inattention over the last few weeks. Pesky dandelions have set their deep roots right next to the peonies, a patch of daylilies and the coral bells. Getting rid of them is difficult as I try to spare the "real" plants. The crab grass, too, seems to have found a home creeping along all the rock work surrounding the tiered flower beds.

Wild morning glory vines weave among the large clumps of mums. Like their cultivated counterparts, these vines grow quickly and sport somewhat attractive flowers. Unlike their cultivated cousins, they really do not belong in the garden.

The nearby rose bush and irises are being choked by these thin, delicate looking vines.

It's been said that a weed is anything that is growing in your garden where you don't want it to grow. Five-point ivy grows in several areas of our garden. Some of it I consider a weed and some of it I don't. For example, the deeply lobed vine looks good climbing up one of the trees near the creek. A thick clump of it also softens the hardness of the rock wall by the lily of the valley. When fall arrives and the leaves turn brilliant red, I will enjoy the lovely color of the ivy growing in these areas.

But the vigorous vine has been known to get out of hand. It sneaks into the hosta bed at the top of the rock wall and creeps along the ground between the red barberry bushes and the irises.

Removing the vine is an interesting experience. It pulls out easily enough. Yet, it rips its way farther and farther along the ground the more it is pulled. I'm never sure where I'll end up. Most of the time I simply cut the vine back when I get tired of pulling it.

I used to cultivate the Venice mallow weed. At first, I thought I was blessed with a lovely wildflower similar to one my Dad grows in his garden. But the two must be different varieties or perhaps not even alike at all. The flowers growing on the plant in my father's garden are large and colorful. The ones in my garden are tiny and not worth the space they occupy. So, now, I just yank them out when I see them.

Who doesn't love garlic?

Luckily, the prolific lambsquarters weed is easily pulled up. I can't say the same for the wild garlic that seems to sprout up in every garden bed every spring. In fact, their appearance is one way I mark the arrival of spring. I do my best to get ahead of the game and get them out of the garden. The trouble is, they are difficult to pluck out. They go way down into the ground and seem to curl under rocks making a straight shot at reaching the end nearly impossible.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but one weed is so tall it towers over the highest of the red hibiscus growing behind the house. Fortunately, I have found only one of these giants. I'm not sure what it is called, I think it might be marestail or horseweed. Because I can see a bloom forming at the top, I'll yank it out before it goes to seed or I might be blessed with many more next year.

Though they seem to grow well in my garden, I am no expert on weeds or their identification, which is best done with fresh samples, rather than wilted or dried ones. I even find it difficult to name a specific weed when toting around a book on weeds that have named pictures of the noxious little plants.

Despite their sometimes fancy names and their attempt to imitate cultivated flowers, weeds do not belong in the garden. And, even without extensive knowledge about weeds, I know a weed when I see one. And given enough time and energy, I'll get them out of the garden.

-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at gardenspot@ljworld.com.

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