For the Weeds Will Always Be With You
Does anyone remember a series of Dr. Who episodes called “The Seeds of Doom”?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.