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!

What’s That Lawn Weed? Wild Onions

This weed is one of the most pernicious weeds and one of the most difficult to get rid of–probably more difficult to eradicate–because their roots are not roots but little bulbs!  This weed, and yellow nutsedge (which isn’t even rearing its ugly head yet, but I’ll post about later in the summer) plant their little bulblets deep into the ground and make hand-pulling almost impossible.

So what is an organic gardener to do?  Close mowing is the answer, and keeping a thick lawn if possible.  Eventually you will starve out the bulbs by cutting off their means of photosynthesis. But you need to be patient–by eventually I mean in a matter of 2-3 years not 2-3 weeks.

And because these weeds grow faster than your surrounding law, most likely you will need to go out with som shears and cut them back by hand in between lawn mowings.  It’s a painstaking process, but it’s not so bad as trying to dig all the clumps up by hand.

Should you decide not to go the organic route (and who blames you–this one is a tough one) the web site lawn care academy has some suggestions for some chemical controls to try.  We haven’t tried them–we just live with the wild onions since they’re on the edges of the property and don’t bother anyone.

And if you are totally organic, some of the foraging web sites have some tasty recipes, should you dig some of the bulbs out!

What’s That Lawn Weed? Dandelions!

Dandelion greens, when young, and if the lawn has not been treated with pesticides of any kind, can make  a tasty salad green. Jut ask your nearest rabbit.  But enough of a good thing is too much, and this year, every lawn in my neighborhood (not to mention all my flowerbeds) seem to be over-run with dandelions!

I may be a bit late entering the fray here–it seems that everyone jumped on the “I love dandelions” bandwagon back in April.  Nevertheless, we’re having a very delayed spring in my part of the world so just call me remedial.

For an excellent article on dandelion haters and folks who are trying to market to you in the guise of getting rid of dandelions, there is this post from the always amusing Garden Rant.  No matter what, those ladies and their guest bloggers always have an opinion and its usually dead on! 

The Plymouth Daily News also did an homage to dandelions and their uses, should you not be a dandelion hater.

But what if you just want to be rid of the pesky things?  They are perennial, and do have quite a long tap root that makes weeding in all but the moistest of soils a challenge.

And, of course, if your lawn is a sea of dandelios like the one above, it can be a time consuming and thankless chore.

So what are the dandelions actualy trying to tell us?  Well, for those of us in New England, it should be no surprise that dandelions thrive in an acidic soil.  If we can change the pH of our soil a bit, we can actually bring the number of dandelions down abit because we will change the environment in which they thrive, making it less hospitable for them.

So here’s where they good old AG School or Extension Service soil test comes in handy because it will tell you what the ph of the soil is and the proper amounts of minerals, including calcium, to add to the soil to amend that soil and make it less hospitable to all the weeds you struggle with.  You may feel like you’re back in chemistry class when you get the results and it’s talking about all these minerals that sound like the periodic table.  But if you take the time to understand it, and do the work to amend your soil, it will save you time in the long run–think of all the weeding you won’t have to do later!

What’s That Lawn Weed? Plantain

So far all week I’ve talked about weeds but I haven’t really talked about what they indicate about the soil (with perhaps the exception of Monday when I talked about moss).  That’s because, for one thing, Paul Tukey does it better than I do in his book The Organic Lawn Care Manual.

But the other thing is that the presence of weeds, for the most part, all indicate one thing: there’s a problem or series of them.  These are the usual problems to look for:

Soil compaction (and this weed, plantain, is a dead giveaway!)

Need for aeration (that’s the flip side of compaction, really–if your soil is compacted, you probably need to aerate it)

Too much moisture–and you’ll know if you have moss

Too much acidity/too alkaline (alkalinity is not usually a problem for us in New England.  It can show up in foundation plantings when limestone leaches from the concrete)

Lack of some mineral or other–usually calcium, magnesium or boron.  These trace elements are left out of the “big bags” of fertilizer.  They can be put back by the “rock powders”–gypsum, lime, greensand.  A good soil test will tell you what you’re lacking and in what amounts to add it back.

So with the usual culprits out of the way, here is the scop on plantain.  This weed is really one that I have a soft spot for as well, although, like violets, it can get quite out of control if not carefully managed.  There are several varieties–broad leafed plantain, narrow leafed plantain, greater plantain, etc.  This is the not the plant that actually produce the tropical fruit you see in the grocery store that resembles a banana, however; that is an entirely different plant and family.

All of that being said, however, it does not mean that our lowly plantain is not useful or lovely (provided you ahve not tried to treat it with Step 2!) It is useful as a poultice, with its juice and leaves being used fora ll manner of skin rashes, bites, stings and even poison ivy (just test a bit first to be sure you are not allergic–you would not want to further irritate yourself).  The leaves 9once again, be sure they have not be sprayed with anything) can be used as salad greens or as a tea, and the tea itself can be used as a skin wash.  Rarely is a weed so helpful!

That being said, as the flower spike in the article attached from Prairieland Herbs shows, it can be a prolific seeder so do be sure not to let it seed itself about.  As my photo above shows, it will colonize. This photo is at the base of a neighbor’s drive, where the snow sat all winter–very compacted soil.

And it does have a bit of a tap root so you would have to dig deep to get it out!

But perhaps before you completely eradicate it, you may want to consider leaving a little patch to cultivate for skin care, salads or tea.  Call it your backyard faraging garden.  Be trendy before it becomes trendy.

What’s That Lawn Weed? Deadnettle

I can’t let this week end without mentioning an email I got from Scott’s toward the end of last week.  It was all about lawn care and it urged the readers to get rid of lawn weeds (interestingly, when you clicked on the link to see a list of the so-called “allergens”, several grass species were among them. Does Scotts want us to get rid of lawns too?) because they were alleged allergens.  As I’ve already pointed out, with a little deeper reading, it’s clear that grasses are every bit as much a problem for allergy sufferers as weeds.

This lovely little weed is henbit, or deadnettle, a lamium species. It’s just started showing up in my neighbor’s lawn–I don’t know how it got there or where it came from. I can tell you that I see it on my drive home from work, and it covers 3 running blocks of lawn.  It’s quite pretty, but it certainly can take over.  Since this is the first spring I’m making this particular drive, I have no idea how long its taken to cover this distance.  But given how much ground the lamium purpureum has taken in my neighbor’s yard in one season, I’d say it wasn’t too long.  I’ll be looking for it in my own yard next year.

This fact sheet from the University of Missouri seems to echo my feelings that it can take over pretty quickly.  This is one weed you want to be on the lookout for and not tolerate because it’s pretty!

Control options seem rather sparse online.  Scotts of course is happy to recommend systemic control options for you.  Since I don’t yet have it on the property, I’m not sure how it might behave–but I can tell you it does spread rapidly so once I see it I will be hand pulling ASAP (even as pretty as it is).

The cultivated varieties of lamium are designed to be groundcovers–I just bought one last week–so presumably they spread by rooting as well as by seed.  Don’t delay if you see this plant on your property unless you’d like a lot more of it!

What’s That Lawn Weed? Creeping Charlie

This post is a bit of a “two-fer:” because in the picture above with the start of the “creeping charlie” (whose botanical name is glechoma  hederacea and if you can believe it, is listed on Connecticut’s invasive plant list.  If you’ve ever had this weed in your yard, you know you’d never deliberately plant the thing!) is the brighter green leaves of a plant looking a bit like a clover.  It goes by the name of oxalis stricta and that plant is the bane of my existence!

But I digress.  Creeping Charlie also goes by the names Gill Over the Ground and Ground Ivy and probably many more.  It actually makes a lovely little blue flower in late May or early June in my part of the country and, if you can believe it, has medicinal uses.

Part of the reason control with this plant is so difficult is that, in its “creeping” form it roots every place it touches the ground.  Also, like violets, it is a perennial so whatever you don’t manage to kill will be back to haunt you the following year.

Supposedly this weed is killed by the traditional “step 2” weed killers but I find that difficult to believe–any plant that makes it onto invasive plant lists is probably going to be pretty difficult to kill.  I’ve had great success with just hand pulling.  Unlike the violets, whose stolons are deep-rooted, the roots of Creeping Charlie are very shallow, especially early in the season when the soil is moist.

What you don’t want to have happen is to have this plant infiltrate your planting beds and get wound up with your plants and rooted in.  That then might require some digging up on your part–and you just don’t want to go there.  If you’ve ever had it happen with lawn grasses you know what I mean.

Creeping Charlie will grow in sun or shade, and one of the things it indicates about your soil is that it is fairly moist.  In drought years, that’s probably a good thing–your grass stays greener naturally longer than the neighbors.  If you’re using an irrigation system, however, you may want to re-think your settings.

Now oxalis is a different story.  This unassuming little weed with the pretty yellow flower can be impossible to get rid of.  First of all, it’s everywhere!  You’ve probably brought it home in nursery pots–undoubtedly you’ve brought home the seeds because each plant sets up to 60,000 seeds (and  no, that’s not at typo folks!).  So one plant can product 60,000 of itself!

Next, according to most of the literature out there (and Ortho) it is resistant to most of the common chemical controls on the market.  So don’t even waste time trying your Step 2 product or even Round-up–you’re just poisoning the planet and the plant may look sickly for a while, bu ultimately, it’ll be back to shoot its 60,000 little seeds far and wide.

So what do we do?  Well, if you must, here’s a nice little piece by NC State on the plant.  If you’re so inclined, you can click on the link and find every chemical control for it on the following page.

What do I do?  I hand pull.  It’s quite easy and the tap root is shallow.  In mid summer, I practice triage–I hand pull everything with a seed capsule on it.   Is it a perfect system?  Obviously not.  But then again, I have bunnies, birds and other critters to help.