For the Weeds Will Always Be With You

Does anyone remember a series of Dr. Who episodes called “The Seeds of Doom”?

seeds of doom
Krynoids: worse even than Creeping Charlie. 

Basically, scientists in Antarctica find these giant seeds which turn out to be man-eating intergalactic weeds called Krynoids. You can imagine the rest.

So when I feel discouraged by the quantity and persistence of weeds in the garden, I remember the Krynoids and remind myself that things could be worse.

Actually, I have come to accept that the struggle between gardeners and weeds is a war of attrition that never ends. Every weekend I try to pull the visible weeds in at least one or two beds, knowing that before too long I’ll have to come back and do it again. It is an endless round of labor.

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Weeds don’t stand a chance against Ostrich Ferns. Of course, you’ll have to keep them from suffocating all your other plants.

 

 

The best defense against weeds, in my view, is to have your garden thickly planted, so as to prevent any bare earth. Deny the weed seeds and seedlings sunlight, and you will greatly diminish their numbers. This means that you need to include a certain number of mounding, sprawling, ground-covering plants: Hardy Geraniums, Nepetas, and so on.

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I’ll dig violets out of my sunny front garden, but in the shady Corner Thicket I use them as a ground cover. 

 

Newly planted beds have the most weeds because they have the most bare ground. In these new beds I will rely to some extent on wood chips or some other kind of mulch. As the beds mature, the need for mulch declines.

The distinction between weeds and desirable plants is rather arbitrary – in fact, the same plant can be both. For example, the weed I find most irritating in my flower beds is none other than the turf grass from the lawn. I think the grass hates me as I have displaced it from  so much of our property. It is constantly attempting to retake lost territory, kind of like the Russians in Crimea.

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For fewer weeds, plant thickly.

What makes turf grass so noxious as a weed is that it infiltrates the crowns of other plants, especially ornamental grasses. The gardener is forced to dig up the garden plant and painstakingly remove the grass roots or simply throw the whole thing away.

DSC_0164
Corydalis

Weeds with taproots or tuberous roots are especially maddening. I don’t even try to remove these roots anymore, because I never succeed in removing them completely. And by disturbing the earth, I expose more weed seeds to the light. These days I just remove the tops of the weeds, hoping to gradually exhaust the roots. As I said, it’s a war of attrition, more specifically their roots versus my back.

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In the shade, Great Merrybells and Wild Ginger are effective at suppressing weeds. 

And perhaps a majority of the weeds I pull from the ground are self-sown seedlings from ornamentals I planted myself. Most notable among these are the Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and asters and Goldenrods of all kinds. You can reduce this problem by cutting the seed heads but I hate to deprive the birds, and sometimes the seed heads themselves are quite beautiful.

So do not let weeds drive you to despair. Grow your beds thick with plants, and just accept that weedless perfection is beyond the grasp of mortal gardeners.

And if the Krynoids show up, remember to call for Dr. Who.

 

 

77 Comments on “For the Weeds Will Always Be With You

  1. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so enlightened as to enjoy Dr. Who, something which I’ve been meaning to remedy. My husband really likes Dr. Who. As for weeding….you can think of it as a sacred act, a part of domestic daily life. Easy for me to say, since I don’t have much of a garden.

    • There are many ways to see old Dr. Who episodes. I recommend the episodes with Tom Baker as the Doctor. Different actors have played the lead character over the years.

  2. I love to see your borders – but I wish I had a hope of growing ostrich ferns! I agree with your approach to weeds completely. It works … but creeping buttercup is my worst enemy and I find it playing up in all sorts of corners that I never seem to get round to. I am learning to love the ‘weeds’ a little more now. I find that, with less time to weed in various corners of the garden, I am being given more happy surprises …

      • Too sunny and dry, sadly (I used to have a large patch in a garden where I worked on rather sandy soil, we had to irrigate to stop them drooping in summer). Although if/when we ever start gardening lower down near the river, we could try them there – would be lovely to see them spread.

  3. If only it was that easy, somehow the weed seeds seem to manage to get in between the plants and then it’s the devil’s own job to get them out!

  4. Hello Jason, we’re definitely struggling with the weeds for the borders that aren’t fully planted. Having a densely planted border crammed with plants leaves very little room for the weeds, which struggle to survive. The previous garden was such that I only needed to weed about twice a year for a couple of hours each because weeds just couldn’t get a foothold.

  5. I’m with you Jason, the answer is to plant densely. My walks in the countryside show that there is always a species to fill every gap, so if we have gaps weeds will fill the space. We have a kind of couch grass that is impossible to remove if it invades a bed which is irrigated but will die back completely in summer without water.

  6. Be careful of those Japanese anemones you planted, Jason! They have spread into every conceivable gap, cracks in paving, steps, etc, here and are a *** to get out. We gardeners must be gluttons for punishment! I agree that dense planting is the way to go and something I hope to achieve.

    • They can spread here, but maybe they are more aggressive in your milder climate. I will keep a close eye on them. I do like the white flowers of ‘Honorine Jobert’.

  7. The Krynoids have arrived in my garden, only here they are known as Ground Elder, Aegopodium podagraria. The spawn of Satan.

    • I have the variegated variety of that plant, which we call Bishop’s Weed. In our garden it is not too hard to control, though I’m always careful to cut off any flower stalks.

      • You actually grow the infernal stuff? Be very careful, you are flirting with the devil.

  8. Ha, I have never heard of dr Who or Krynoids. The Krynoids sort of look like the roids that I am familiar with. 😉 As to weeds. Geez, they are persistent. It is exhausting from time to time just thinking about pulling, hoeing etc. I m getitng much better at just not worrying about them. I do work at keeping the weeds at bay but there are more of them than me.

  9. Your borders look nice Jason.
    Some of the biggest problems in my garden are those things I planted from my old garden. Where they once had shown restraint they now misbehave terribly in the conditions of my current garden.

  10. I also have a very heavily planted garden, one that starts fully carpeted in early spring, but this it did not suppress the weeds, especially the maple seed. Dandelions grew from the crown of perennials. Drought stress caused the excess of weed production in our area. It also affected new growth from perennials. This year of weeds was different from previous years, like I mentioned, one we have never seen before.

    • I’ve read that global warming will make for more vigorous weeds. Ugh. A thickly planted garden can reduce the quantity of weeds, but not eliminate them completely.

  11. I’m with you Jason, I plant densely too. Had to smile at your paving, my husband has a thing about plants growing up through the gaps in paving, I love it, he hates it. But so often there are little treasures in those gaps. We were brought up on Dr Who, so enjoyed your clip very much.

  12. Lovely as always! I have thought about ostrach ferns but thought the price was not worth it just for one plant…..maybe i should try them if they do spread.

  13. We are Dr. Who fans from way, way back 😉 Drat those weeds, and while we’re at it, drat those snails and slugs and all the other pests that attack our lovelies.

  14. This is perfectly timed: My job for today is to tackle the weeds that have been allowed to run rampant too long. I’m under no illusions that I will even make a noticeable dent, and am sure that by the end of the second hour I will be wishing I had phaser with which I could fry every last one of them with precision and without torturing my vertebrae!

    I have a small but very true sign/reminder which says: “Make no mistake: The WEEDS will win. Mother Nature always bats last.”

  15. Your timing is impeccable. I spent the past two days pulling Canada thistle and something unknown to me. The former was starting to bud and the latter was taking over entire beds. We also cut out volunteer mulberries and honeysuckle (the bad kind) and restricted some Virginia creeper. Today I yanked the northern sea oats growing behind the rhododendron. It is a neverending battle, like cat hair and dust.

    • Canada Thistle, that’s a tough one. Mulberries are prolific but not so hard to remove. Sea oats is beautiful, of course, but a real bear to remove from where it isn’t wanted.

  16. Ha! I’m adopting the Chatsworth Lady’s quote as my motto. Not only does Mother Nature bat last, but she gets to keep playing long after we are gone.

  17. Once spring planting is over, I think of weeding as my daily walk through the gardens. I like to look at them, so bending down to pull some weeds as I walk around doesn’t seem like too much work 🙂

    • That’s how it should be, but some days I don’t get to inspect the garden – rushing out the door in the morning, coming back late at night. Plus I’ve put in so many beds … but that’s my own fault, of course.

  18. You know, I think I do remember that episode! I agree that cramming the beds with as many plants as possible is the only answer. It also means the snails and slugs get a balanced diet and don’t just eat one plant. (Although my Echinaceas have disappeared again! I give up!)

  19. Like most (all?) other gardeners who’ve commented above, I totally agree with you that the best long-term way to prevent (or at least reduce) weeding is to have beds planted thickly with desirable plants.

    (Though as you say, even a desirable plant can become weedy in time…)

    There is another option that most if not all of my neighbors pursue – pay someone to put down a blanket of mulch twice a year and place chemicals in the mulch that prevent seed germination, but I’m uncomfortable with that solution for about half a dozen reasons (ecology, finance, logic, aesthetics, etc.)

  20. The Day of the Triffids is my substitution for Dr Who, but I will now look up those Krynoids. I always heard it was the insects that would take over the earth.

  21. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has considered tossing entire plants because of the grass or other weeds which have slipped in. Your merrybells, fern, ginger plantings look great. So restful and lush for a quiet shade area.
    Dr Who and weeding Russians out of Crimea. Not your everyday gardening references. Love it!

  22. “A weed is but a plant out of place.” Sometimes this helps ease the pain. Depends on the weed, I mean plant😎

  23. I think I have some Krynoids here in the form of giant hogweed; beautiful big plant but poisonous and spreads prolifically. Jason, I’m with you on turf grass, the most insidious weed in my garden beds. While some of the big and or deep rooted ones need brute force to remove, I prefer to do the little fussy weeding, like grass in the moss and gravel, in the early evening, with a glass of chardonnay in one hand. It is a pleasant way to wind down the day while doing something useful, and I am far more patient 🙂

    • I try to keep alcohol separate from the garden chores, as otherwise I am likely to end up sleeping in a lawn chair. Giant Hogweed is one plant I haven’t had to do battle with, does it eat people?

      • Actually, giant hogweed is a big beautiful plant, between 6-18 feet tall, with lovely umbels of white blossoms and dissected feathery foliage. Unfortunately, it eats the garden, crowding out more pleasant and polite residents. Even worse, it also eats people in that it is phytotoxic, creating a severe skin rash and blisters when skin in contact with it is exposed to sunlight, black or purple scars can last for years. I remove it very carefully, worse than
        poison ivy but much prettier. Classified as a federal noxious weed. I won’t be sipping wine while battling this garden hog!

  24. My son who blogs about Doctor Who would know all about this….
    He refuses to divulge his name, perhaps its the association with me!

  25. I guess one of the advantages of gardening on glacial sand with very little organic matter in it is that I don’t get many weeds! Your strategy of covering as much earth as possible with plants is the one recommended by Rainer and West in Planting in a Post-Wild World. I was particularly intrigued by their advice to choose groundcover plants with roots that draw on a different layer of soil than your ornamental plants so that the two are not in competition with one another. (Easier said than done.)

  26. Good advice. [chuckle] Yes, turf grass is difficult as it spills over into the garden. As I pull it, I use it (sans seedheads) as mulch on my annual/veggie beds. Fresh, green grass is a great top mulch that adds beneficial nutrients to the soil around those newly planted plants. Now I just need to get out there and do it!

    • Yep, the green grass makes a good mulch. I just try to make sure it can’t root itself all over again – especially on a wet day.

  27. I have had decades of watching the Dr starting with Tom Baker right through to very recently thanks to the children. We are living with a life size David Tennant cutout. Of course and don’t ask. He spooks me regularly. Anyway the weeds. Yikes they are rampant this year. The borders have been the easier part to manage thanks to dense planting so I confirm it works.
    Ground elder is a major pain if you get it in the garden.

    • We inherited some variegated Ground Elder in the back garden from the last owners Honestly it is not too unmanageable, but I am careful to always pull off any flowers to prevent seed formation.

      • Luckily. Here it is one of the worst to have in the garden, its roots get tangled in the roots of other plants and it becomes very hard to separate.

  28. Ha, I do remember that Dr Who encounter! You are right about those weeds that manage to germinate in the crown of other plants being a menace. I’ve got dandelions in the agapanthus, so I pull off the flowers regularly and tell myself I will lift, divide and remove the weeds in the autumn. But will I remember?

  29. I’ll obviously have to become acquainted with Dr. Who. My weed battle at present is bindweed poking up and twisting around stalks and stems and creeping Charlie doing its thing below. Mid 90sF and the weeds are winning.

    • Ugh, Bindweed and Creeping Charlie, the worst. All I do is keep pulling the Charlie and cutting the Bindweed at the roots. Slows them down, but that’s all. I may need to call the USAF for an air strike.

  30. I do they news paper trick works like a dream last for a year or two I just lay do 4 or more sheets of old newspaper the more damp the better the cover with mulch no weeds for the rest of the year

    • I’ve tried the newspaper thing for smothering grass. Works but for me there tended to be scraps of newspaper blowing around afterward. Not sure how I would use it on an established bed.

  31. Pingback: For the Weeds Will Always Be With You — gardeninacity | Old School Garden

  32. I try not to let the weeds get me down and like you I pull the tops off rather than digging them out…..especially mare’s tail, that is one weed that is impossible to dig out.xxx

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