In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
April, 2009
Regional Report

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Dollarweed is a triple threat: it spreads by seeds, roots, and thick white rhizomes.

Weeding Woes

I kept a column on my bulletin board for several years that celebrated the joys of weeding. At least that's what the writer found in this mindless task. Though I do find a rather meditative zone in repetitive motion, my muttered mantra goes like this, "Die, you rascal, and don't grow back!" Since I do not use traditional herbicides in my gardens, I chant that one plenty.

Timing Weed Control
Any plant growing where the gardener doesn't want it is a weed, horticulturally speaking. That means ultimately the control of what plants you grow and where you grow them is yours in almost every situation. Noxious, invasive weeds are outlawed in various places, and local covenants may impose other restrictions. The wider issue of what is a weed is often addressed by garden "experts" who tell us that one or another is unacceptable. In the early 20th century, canna lilies were planted along alleyways to hide the garbage cans. Considered a weed and called "common" back then, cannas are certainly no longer limited in their acceptable landscape uses.

Deciding to rid your garden of one "weed" or another shouldn't have to be a kneejerk reaction to someone else's opinion about it. If you can put unpopular plants to work, do. If not, find a way to limit if not completely control them.

Serious Weeds
There are some plants that most everyone in our regions agree can be more trouble than they're worth. Some make the "list to avoid" because of their aggression in flower beds, like cashmere bouquet clerodendron and autumn clematis vine. But in a gravel area, the first makes a powerful butterfly magnet where nothing else grows. And I wouldn't be without the vine, as long as it stays in the wooded thicket at the back corner of the property where it can brighten without dominating. They're weeds to most because they are hard to control in good growing conditions, yet in challenging situations they make the grade. Other plants make the list to avoid because they can be downright dangerous, like poison ivy; still others, like nutgrass, rob nutrients from potential food in the vegetable garden.

Weed Strategies
Some weeds are "planted" for you by birds, some arrive in pots of plants and wake from dormancy to torment you. There are three basic strategies that can work together to decrease an unwanted plant's profile: physical removal, chemical control, and suppression of return growth.

You will have to lift out plants with storage organs, probably even if you spray them, to prevent regrowth from their tubers or rhizomes. In very difficult circumstances, where the weed has overtaken more than a square foot of soil, it may be easier to scoop weedy patches out, groom them, and replace the soil. Chemical sprays can be effective if used wisely, but are no match for weeds with woody stems or those that spread by rhizomes, such as dollarweed. This plant and others with slick leaves also repel chemicals and so should be crushed before spraying to allow the spray to penetrate.

In the long run, clearing the garden of weeds now is wise, be prepared to spray if regrowth occurs, and always weed before the plants in question can bloom, set seed, and reproduce further. Lay down barrier cloth in permanent planting areas once weeds are cleared out, and mulch around and between all desirable plants to further suppress weeds.


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