Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
Parts 1, 2 and 3
by Fred Davis, Hill Gardens of Maine (To view other articles, click Archives)
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Just when you thought that our northeastern (Central Maine, USA) gardening season has ended, when frost has finally reduced much of the veggie and flower garden to a near-desolation of badly burned stalks and freeze-blasted seed heads, new patches of green seem to be appearing everywhere!
Yes, it's true. . .many weeds (a "weed" is practically any plant growing where it ought not to be) really prefer the cool weather of early- to mid-fall. Late summer and fall are also times when some highly invasive weeds produce prodigious quantities of seeds. I'll bet I've repeated this one at least a thousand times: There's an old saying among a great many long-time gardeners—One year seeds, 7 years weeds! Let a weed go to seed just once, and you'll be pulling resultant generations for many years.
So, you see, this is a crucial time to keep your guard up and be ever on the alert for any sign of fast-growing weeds or rapidly-maturing weed seed heads. I also feel strongly that forewarning is forearming. So let's review some basics about routine control of these rambunctious, hungry and awesomely-persistent rascals. Here are some secrets of long-time successful gardeners. Keep these in mind as you begin next years season.
SECRET #1: Control the unwanted plants before you put in your garden. It's really a simple task for the gardener with a long-range (3-5-year) plan who is willing to sacrifice the first year for beauty and pleasure the next several years. Here's how: After you've selected the area and marked-off the outline of your garden to be, scalp it off close with a lawn mower if you can. Catch all the clippings or rake them off and either destroy them or add them to a "hot" compost pile. There will be many, many seeds that you don't want spread around the rest of your property. Now water the scalped-off area so the top 3 or 4 inches are saturated. Cover the entire marked-off spot with four or six mil clear poly sheeting, and weigh down the edges with soil or stones. The sun will do the rest, raising the temperature well into the range that'll destroy plants, seeds in the top inch or two of soil, and harmful insects and soil nematodes. It takes 6 to 8 weeks of hot summer sun to get the job done right..
Remove the poly; rake away the chaff that remains; add in your compost, old manure, peat, sand, bonemeal, some form of fertilizer; deep spade or till, and next spring you'll be all set to plant without the unpleasant task of dealing with witchgrass, dandelions or whatever else used to be there. Be careful not to allow any air in around the poly edges, and see that there are no holes. And be patient...it's worth it.
SECRET #2: When you see a weed, pull it. Don't do like most people and pass it by saying, "I'll get it on the way back," or "Tomorrow [or next week] I'll just have to come back here and deal with that weed." Stop right there and pull that weed! And if you see another nearby, get that one, too.
SECRET #3: This one goes along with #2: Never EVER let a weed go to seed. You can improve your odds by either mowing or cutting "wild" areas around your garden space. Always aim the discharge chute of your mower away from your cultivated or planted area. Remember the old adage: "One year seeding, seven years weeding"? Strictly speaking, it may not be entirely true, but the theory is sound. If you let just one dandelion form seeds that drift across your garden, you'll have this pestilence to contend with for years. The same holds true for a great many other weedy plants, especially grasses.
SECRET #4: When weeds do pop up in your garden, the best time to attack them is when they're small and tender. It's a whole lot easier to hoe or pull out a baby than an old granddaddy with a taproot that goes halfway to Pakistan. On a bright warm day with a gentle breeze, just cultivating with your fingers or hand-cultivator among the little weed seedlings is usually enough to destroy them on the spot.
SECRET #5: Sometimes the best method is simply to cover the problem up! You do that with a mulch. Straw is a little coarse and blows around. Bark chips look neat and also serve to conserve moisture. Composted wood chips also work well. Whatever you use, if and when weeds do come up through the mulch, they pull much more easily.
Of course, there are some alternatives. A lot of folks eat dandelions, lamb's quarters and a few others. Many others spray with incredibly dangerous herbicides. You could asphalt-over that dense patch of witch-grass, but chances are the stuff'll come up through it. The hardware stores, Agway and some garden centers sell a metal or plastic barrier to keep weeds from spreading into your garden from the lawn.
Some last thoughts in this introductory section: Never rototill sod or lawn and then plant directly into it! You'll not only be plagued with weeds for generations, but it'll seem like every grub and insect in the county will have made their home there. Listen to the experts. Eliminate the weeds before you plant, enjoy a much more relaxed tour in your garden for seasons to come (and people will say, "Your garden always looks so nice; there are so few weeds!"). Back to Top
Chickweed & Lamb's QuartersChickweed is an annual in our USDA climate zone (5) and actually prefers the cooler parts of the season. Very low-growing in improved, moist and nitrogen-rich soils, this little weed is very sensitive to drought so is not a serious problem in drier areas. Heaviest and most productive growth occurs during early spring and late fall when daytime temperatures rest in the mid-teens, centigrade. It is so adaptable that it'll prosper in sun or shade, making it a problem even in fields or gardens where taller plants or crops would normally shade-out most other weeds.
Seeds are produced in abundance quite literally all season long and persist in the soil - unknowingly cultivated well below the surface during routine tilling or maintenance - for several years. There's that old kernel again: "One year seeds...seven year weeds!" So, it seems, just when you thought you've conquered the little pests, spading or cultivating brings dormant seeds to the surface where they quickly germinate and continue with renewed vengeance.
Not all is doom and gloom, however, for this small plant is actually completely edible and, in the minds of some, quite tasty. Picked when fresh and succulent, chickweed provides an interesting garnish and adds a pleasant zest to salads and stir-fries.
As with most other weeds, key to successful control and final elimination is to never allow them to go to seed. Destroy tiny seedlings the moment they make their first appearance. Back to Top
Lamb's Quarters is another very fast growing, prolific seed-producing annual and, while some chef/gardeners consider it edible and delicious, the oxalic acid produced by this plant can be poisonous to sheep and swine if ingested in large amounts. Lamb's Quarters is at its best in cultivated, high-organic soils especially those found in high-nutrition vegetable plots. Each plant has the resources to produce in the range of 70,000 or more viable seeds per season, with the bulk of germination early in the season. A second flush of seedlings usually appears in late summer/early fall, putting on rapid growth and another full crop of seeds for emergence the following spring.
It is not uncommon to see Lamb's Quarters rampantly-growing at the rate of 50 or more mature, seed-producing plants per square meter and, at that density, they rob virtually all moisture, nutrition, light and space from other, more valuable, crops. All reasonable - and dedicated - efforts and strength must be employed to eliminate this pest from gardens and fields - without the use of chemical herbicides if at all possible.
One final note before moving on: seeds of these (and many other) common weeds are easily and frequently transported to new, previously unaffected areas on tools, tires, rototiller wheels and tines, and in the welts and treads of boots and shoes. Be aware that, when you visit the weed-ridden garden or field of a friend or neighbor, you may inadvertently bring some of their weeds and pests home to live in your garden. Back to Top
Goldenrod & Common Yarrow
Weeds truly are the bane of most gardeners. Most, but not all. Oftentimes plants despised by some as weeds capable of producing prodigious crops of seeds and fit for little more than all-out warfare, are actually treasured by others as colorful additions to their gardens. Such is the case with the two selected for this week's column: late-summer- and-fall-blooming goldenrod and common white yarrow.
Goldenrod (Solidago) - Commonly called "Golden Fleece" and actually the state flower of Kentucky and Nebraska, the common goldenrod can - and will - grow almost anywhere a seed falls to the ground. And a great many seeds there are! Both the Canadian goldenrod (S. canadensis) and the European S. virgaurea are commonly cultivated as ornamentals in perennial borders located in North America. It has been used in dyes and in teas, and is considered by some to be of great medicinal value as a urinary demulcent, diuretic and anti-inflammatory.
Once thought - incorrectly - to be a direct causative agent in hay fever, researchers now know the real culprit is common ragweed, another highly-productive weed-pest often growing in similar locations and conditions. Goldenrod pollen is heavy and quickly falls to the ground; ragweed pollen, on the other hand, is tiny and can drift on the winds in sufficient quantity to stimulate allergic response.
Goldenrod as a weed can be both simple and difficult to
deal with. Recognized early enough, seedlings
Yarrow (Achillea millifolium) - A number of attractive, cultivated varieties ("hybrids") of yarrow can be found in a great many nurseries and gardens but the common white yarrow is frequently considered an invasive weed. Actually, its late-summer clusters of tiny white flowers can be a bit of welcome color-relief as other, more prized perennials wane with the arrival of fall.
Teas made from flowers and fresh leaves were often used by both the Cree and Blackfoot Indians in the treatment of headaches, digestive ailments and what appears to have been consumption. Stems of the mature plants have been brewed and used to relieve the pain of childbirth.
Common yarrow can become invasive so, as with goldenrod, great care should be taken early in the season to remove small upstarts before they reach seed-bearing maturity. But don't be too hasty to totally remove all of these attractive little plants from your garden. An unused yet bright corner of the border with poor-to-average soil and infrequent moisture would be a perfect spot for a clump of these bright and cheery "weeds"!
One final thought: Both Goldenrod and Yarrow can be dried and used to good effect in waterless indoor arrangements. Just harvest slightly before flower "prime" and either hang in small bunches in an airy, dry location for a week or two, or use the silica gel method to preserve form and color (more information on drying flowers can be found in the Archives.
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