Wordless Wednesday

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Every time I go to water a certain pot, I find this katydid on one of the blooms. Usually it’s the gerbera daisies.  Sometimes it’s the marigolds.

It doesn’t seem to be doing much damage.  And of course in the evening,  when the air conditioner isn’t running,  I can hear its “katy–katydid” call.

Also notice, our “freedom lawn,” particularly the crabgrass,  is not suffering too much from drought stress. We do not irrigate. And yes, there are dry patches.  And yes, crabgrass thrives in the heat. We hand pull it before it sets seed (if we don’t get heat stroke first!). Otherwise, there’s always next year.

Wordless Wednesday–Photos from the Freedom Lawn

A little over 2 weeks ago I talked about my “Freedom Lawn.” That post had no photos because we were still having snow!

It has since warmed up enough for things to green up and start blooming so I thought I would post lots of photos so folks could see what I meant by this concept–and either be horrified or not.

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The first thing we do is let the violets grow and bloom. Violets are an important early nectar source for early butterflies and moths. You can see two different types here alone–the deep purple and an “introduced one that has self-sown from my garden, viola odorata, ‘Freckles.’

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This is a close-up of ‘Freckles.’

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This is probably the source of one our biggest battles between the Spoiler and me. I love the moss and he doesn’t. We have a lot of it naturally. He doesn’t understand how sustainable it is, and that where ever it grows, he doesn’t have to mow, water or feed. What’s not to like? This is along one of the beds.20160418_164949

We also have quite a bit of moss naturally in the lawn. People don’t necessarily understand that moss doesn’t need shade to grow. This is on a sunny slope among tree roots. Because our soil pH is so low (it’s in the 3s!) moss naturally loves our soil. You can see all the stoniness too that comes from being on rock ledge.

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Here’s a better view of the moss, tree roots and some other “freedom lawn” inhabitants in that same area. There’s chickweed, some dandelions (which will be weeded out) some grass and some moss. The chickweed will stay. Although it’s very weedy and seedy, birds love the seeds.

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This is an area on the top of that slope where it is slightly shadier so there is more grass–and greener moss.

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Finally, there are grape hyacinths (muscari) that the ants have planted for me all over the slope of this part of the “freedom lawn. ” (More about ants as pollinators during Pollinator Week.)

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I am always careful to cut all the flowers before our first mowing. This was our “harvest this year. Usually I get 4 small vases full. This year it was five. I think perhaps because the mowing was delayed due to the cooler weather, the flowers had a longer time to grow. It was a nice bonus!

So that’s the “Freedom Lawn.” The look is not for everyone. But I am fortunate–several of our neighbors have violet patches as well so they don’t get too upset about ours. We don’t live in a place where perfection is demanded–at least not too often!

Feeling Patriotic? Grow A Freedom Lawn This Year!

I would love to say that I came up with this concept but I did not. It’s not even a new concept. It’s been around for a decade or more as I wrote about in a post that you can read here.

In fact, the concept is even more relevant now with all of the drought going on in various parts of the country. Look what has happened regarding drought in the last ten years or so–we’ve had sort of a rolling drought that persisted for years, moving from the south, through the southwest and then into California.

And let’s not even talk about the persistent wildfires that get bigger and burn hotter each year out west.

With all that going on, it’s downright unpatriotic–to me–to attempt to plant a perfect carpet of grass. (But remember, if we all liked the same thing, what a boring world we would have. I know my male readers are just cringing right now).

So how do I define a “freedom lawn?” At my house, in my clay soil, even in a drought, we are fortunate enough to remain a lot wetter than most, so what I try to do is to persuade the Spoiler to allow most of what wants to grow there naturally to remain.

Not only do we garden in wet, heavy clay, but we garden on a slope. So this is really a tough climate for grass.  Our pH is really low so the soil is very acidic–again not ideal for grass–but perfect for moss! So in a lot of spots, I have convinced the Spoiler to just leave the moss. And it’s working!

So there’s no mowing and very few weeds that invade. Anything that comes up, I hand pull–but in that environment, very little invades. Some plantain might occasionally come up. But we do get lots of little ferns. Very pretty.

On the flat, sunny slopes, we have violets–perfect nectar spots for the bees and butterflies. This is a tough on to balance because the violets can over-run a lawn. In our clay, they do not seem to get out of control.

Occasional dandelions will also come up. I will let them flower, but we weed them out before they seed since they are perennial. The flowers are great for early tiny bees.

And clover, which also occurs naturally if you let it, is a wonderful asset to the lawn. Not only does it feed bees and butterflies but it helps fix the nitrogen in the soil because it is in the legume family. Prior to all the 4-Step programs, clover was actually sold in grass seed mixes for just this purpose. Once the commercial fertilizer programs came along, they couldn’t figure out not to kill it along with the other “broad leaf weeds” so they just chose to list it as a weed.

And if that isn’t a sad tale, I’m not sure, what is!

Don’t Spray the Lawn Weeds–Cook with Them

I have had posts on this topic at various times over the years but I don’t think I’ve ever done one in the fall. Mostly I do them in the spring, or I’ll do a series on weeds, or lawn weeds, or perhaps even weeds that have some edible or useful properties.

But suddenly a variety of chefs and cookbooks are springing up that rely on–gasp–foraging! I’m fairly sure I did a post on the woman who is, or used to be a bond trader in New York who wrote a cookbook on foraging and who supplies all the trendy New York restaurants (that almost sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? It almost sounds like a cliché–bond trader becomes trendy forager, writes cookbook for star chefs? Oh puhleez! if it were that simple, why didn’t we all think of it instead of writing these silly blog posts year after year? Sigh)

But here’s yet another story about a woman supplying the restaurants in Kansas City (and the story references back to that other NYC story so I know I didn’t just make it up! And my mistake–she wasn’t a trader; she was a lawyer. Sort of the same difference when it comes to getting out of one career and finding a new one in the weeds if you ask me. And I should know!) with “weeds” like chicory, “anise hyssop” (the story mentions that–I wouldn’t call it a weed but there you have it!) and dandelion blossoms.

Perhaps they have less adventurous tastes out in the Midwest at the moment. That’s fine. We all have to start somewhere. And I’m so delighted that chefs, once again, are at the forefront of the experimentation and that we gardeners are presenting them with lots of things to try.

So how about it gardeners? Why not lay off the last fall feeding of conventional fertilizer and let the lawn go organic for a change? Then in the spring, rather than “freak out” when a weed or two appears, try identifying it first (always, always always know what you are eating before you do so!) and if you can positively identify it as safe to eat, experiment!

There are lots of web sites and even some cookbooks now that talk about cooking with wild and foraged plants. Think about it–this could be the easiest garden you ever grow. Give it a try.

A Cautionary Tale About Weed Killers

I’ll be the first to tell you–I have no idea what particular weed killers were used here.  And I don’t know if the bed was sprayed once or twice, but I know it was sprayed once at least because this bed has had an ongoing problem with horsetail, nutsedge and other very persistent weeds.  I saw a layer of pesticide-killed–not hand pulled– weeds before the mulch was put down.

Despite the mulching, in fact, there are new shoots of nutsedge poking through–after only 8 days.  That’s how persistent nutsedge is, sadly, and how ineffective  weed killers can be on what you’re trying to kill.

This homeowner, one of my neighbors, uses a landscaper that doesn’t even have a name on his truck, never mind a license number.  For all I know, he’s a son of theirs.  He comes by once  a week, usually on a Thursday, and rolls a mower out of a pickup and mows and “weed whacks” around the beds.

Three weeks ago I noticed all the weeds in the bed were killed off.  10 days ago I noticed the new mulch.  And now this–a dead rose.  You can bet it’s not a coincidence.

One of 3 things happened:

  • pesticide drift got onto the rose;
  • the pesticides applied were inappropriate for use in a mixed planting and that’s what killed the rose (for example, a nutsedge killer shouldn’t be used in landscape beds); or
  • the application rates of the pesticide chosen were inappropriate and that killed the plant.

In any case, whenever using pesticides, particularly ones that are labeled for lawn weeds like nutsedge or ones that are labeled for “season long” control, please read and follow all label instructions.  Plant loss is really only the beginning of issues that you can have.

Creeping Summer Weeds–Yellow Nutsedge

That spiky bright green stuff you see sticking up in the middle of the photo?  That’s summer’s version of wild onions–yellow nutsedge.  And just like with wild onions or wild garlic, control is difficult to near impossible.  In fact, we and most of our neighbors do not even try at this point, and here’s why.

This is not a grass or a weed; it is a sedge. A sedge is a particular type of plant–you’ll often see ornamental varieties of them being sold in the garden centers with the grasses.  But because of this, neither herbicides nor broadleaf weed killers are going to work to kill them.  So things like Round-Up (glysophate) and even the pre-emergents are not going to have any effect on this plant.

To make matters even worse, it grows from a bulb-like structure underground, so hand pulling is going to be difficult.  If you try when the plants are young, it may be possible.  By the time the plants are this mature, it is all but futile.  This information sheet from the University of Vermont extension service shows all stages of the plant including its bulb-like structures and the mature fruiting bodies that give it the name “nutsedge.”

Here’s my version of the fruiting bodies of the nutsedge.  I took this in that same weedy field where the burdock was growing.  Perish the thought that this was my land!

There are a few herbicides that do work on this plant but they are not commonly available to the homeowner and as such I surely cannot recommend them.  Should you have a nutsedge invasion, I would advise you to work with a professional to carefully control it since it is a perennial weed and it will be back next year.

Creeping Summer Weeds–Spurge

This opportunistic weed will take advantage of any crack, crevice or opening–never mind perfectly good garden soil–to grow and spread out to amazing proportions.  It spreads by seed but you’ll almost never see its flowers–they’re nondescript little things hidden practically underneath all this foliage.  And to add to all that delightfulness, it had a tap-root that’s just a bear to dig out–while it’s not thick, like a dandelion’s can be, it can go very deep, almost assuring you’ll never get the whole thing.  This is a thoroughly unpleasant little (correction, huge!) weed!

When I tried to pull it, you can see that it came out without the root.  Worse yet, it exudes a sticky milky sap that gets all over your hands or gloves.  I don’t have a reaction to it but I wonder if some folks might.  In my reading about it, I did discover that it can cause contact dermatitis in “humans” and that the sap is poisonous to animals.  The weed is just more and more delightful.

There are a few varieties of this weed.  This one happens to be creeping spurge.  I know this because it lacks the tell-tale little reddish ovals in the middle of the leaf that distinguish it from spotted spurge–otherwise they look pretty much identical.

And while it is almost impossible to tell from either photo, all up and down the stems, the weed is loaded with flowers.  They are the sort of light  or buff colored areas at the junctions of the leaves.  Unless you’re carefully studying the plant, you just wouldn’t even know they are there.

Finally since the root didn’t come out with this plant, it will be back.  It was growing in a crack in the pavement by my rose garden.  So while I can be pleased that at least all these seeds won’t germinate, I will have to go back and try to get this plant out again sometime soon.  Maybe after all the rain we’ve had–or are about to get again!

Creeping Summer Weeds–Purslane

If this weed (it’s the one with the reddish stems if you’re having trouble distinguishing what’s what in the photo) looks a bit familiar to you, that’s because it’s related to a cultivated garden annual–portulaca or moss rose.

The seed companies also sell “souped up” varieties of this plant to eat as a salad green because it is full of nutritional goodness–vitamins C, A and E among other things.  It is also reputed to be very high in omega 3 fatty acids.  That would be one reason to grow cultivated varieties of this plant.

This link will get you to a page in the Johnny’s Select Seeds online catalog and to a variety of “purslane” called Goldberg Golden.  You can buy a small quantity of seed that will so a row 15′ long or larger quantities (I can’t imagine why–as anyone who’s ever grown portulaca knows, once you have it, you have it forever–put then again, maybe with the eating variety, you don’t let it flower).

Any of the other good seed houses are likely to have it as well.  I like Johnny’s because they’re from Maine and I know if they can grow it in Maine I can grow it in Connecticut!

Another is that it is high in iron and other dietary minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium.  It is used in cooking all over the world and even has uses in traditional chinese medicine according to Wikipedia (since I know a bit about herbs but not so much about TCM).

But you don’t want it getting out of control in the garden.  As the photo shows, it can be quite vigorous. Here’s another look at it once I pulled it (because yes, once again these are my weeds).

Those little buds will become little yellow flowers, and then, little blacks seeds–10 or more per seed pod.  you can see that in the Wikipedia article too if you’re interested.  Needless to say, I try to get mine out before they flower.

They do tend to have a bit of a tap root too–nothing like a dandelion but somewhat difficult to remove especially if the ground is dry.

I don’t grow cultivated purslane as a salad green although I have been known to grow the annual portulaca in planters now and again.  When I do grow the annual, I tend to get the one with double flowers.  Its foliage is needle-like so it doesn’t look as much like this weed.  It’s sort of like me and oxalis–I just can’t grow those pretty ornamental ones–to me they all look like weeds!

Creeping Summer Weeds–Carpet Weed

Here’s an interesting weed that sort of blends right into the lawn because its foliage is so fine.  No one is going to mistake this for creeping charlie or crabgrass or a lot of the other weeds that infect the lawn. In fact, think of this as the late summer version of chickweed–very small, pretty little white star-shaped flower, but wow!  Let it get going and it will certainly spread.  And just like chickweed, one plant can put out a prodigious number of seeds.

It’s not that any one flower puts out a huge number of seeds–but look at the number of flowers in this photo alone.  Each flower puts out 4-6 seeds or so and once you multiply that by the number of flowers on the plant you can see how this plant could rapidly reproduce.  Thankfully it’s an annual but with seed reproduction like that, you’d never know it–and remember the old garden saying: One year’s seeds, seven year’s weeds.

Here’s a photo once I pulled it from the ground (because yes, this is my weed). You can see that it doesn’t have a particularly deep tap root (thank goodness).  But with all those flowers to seed itself around, it doesn’t need to be careful about staying rooted, I guess.  This is one weed you don’t want to get away from you!