In the weather forecast last week, the meteorologist stated that we have had 33 straight days of above average temperatures. I believe it – May was hot! We also had quite a bit of rain, so between the water and heat, the weeds have gone berserk. I swear I pull one out and two more show up in its place. It is like a B-grade horror movie.
What is a weed? I like this definition from www.dictionary.com: “A weed is any undesirable or troublesome plant, especially one that grows profusely where it is not wanted.” I want grass in my lawn but not poking out between the bricks in my sidewalk and patio. My woolly thyme and pink chintz thyme are growing in the bricks, but I think they look attractive. What I am saying is, what constitutes a weed is sometimes dependent on where it is growing, kind of like that statement, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
While weeds are definitely annoying and eliminating them feels like a never ending battle, they are not merely a cosmetic issue. Weeds interfere with the plants we do want growing in our farm fields, lawns, flower beds and vegetable gardens. Weeds steal water and nutrients. Weeds can shade the desirable plants so that they do not get sufficient sunlight. Some weeds even emit a toxin which harms neighboring plants.
Weeds can do all these evil things and drive us insane due to several common attributes. They are very hardy and can survive in a wide range of conditions. Some have waxy leaves that prevent water loss so they are more tolerant of drought and heat; purslane is a good example. Some like Canada thistle have very deep rooting systems, allowing them to access water that more shallow rooted plants cannot reach. Weeds produce lots of seeds, sometimes thousands. One bedstraw plant can bear 100 to 3,000 or more seeds. Many weed seeds can survive years in the soil. The nasty and invasive wild garlic mustard seeds can remain viable for seven years or more! And lastly, weeds have creative ways of dispersing. When disturbed, the seeds of the hairy bittercress can shoot out 16 feet from the mature plant. Dandelion seeds drift through the air, and the cockleburs and burdock seeds stick to clothing and pets. Many weeds have seeds that float on water and wash up in a new location.
Take heart. Diligence and dedication are key to surviving the war on weeds.
• Pull early and often. Pull weeds with the roots intact. Many weeds can reproduce via rhizomes or stolons, what many refer to as runners, so getting all of that plant material out is critical. Ground ivy, yellow nutsedge, and johnsongrass fall into this category.
• Wear protective clothing. Plants such as poison ivy, wild parsnip, and stinging nettles, just to name a few, can cause skin irritation, blisters or worse.
• Mulch is very helpful as it shades the weed seeds and can reduce the number that germinate. Mulch also keeps the soil moist when it gets hot and dry, which makes it easier to pull weeds.
• Landscape fabric and plastic can be used as well.
• Herbicides can be another option or a supplement to weed pulling. Know your weeds, so you know the appropriate product to use and when to use it. Read and follow all label directions!
• Timing is important. Never let the weeds go to seed. As Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
• Become familiar with the plants listed on the noxious weed list (https://farmoffice.osu.edu/blog-tags/ohio-noxious-weeds) and those plants that are considered invasive in Ohio (http://ohiodnr.gov/invasivespecies and www.oipc.info/invasive-plants-of-ohio.html).
Whether you are raising crops for your livelihood, vegetables for your family, or flowers and trees to beautify your home, weeds impact productivity while taking a heavy toll on your time and energy. A valuable local resource is the Delaware County Master Gardeners Helpline. This free service is open from April through the end of October and can be accessed at 740-833-2040 or 740-833-2030 or by stopping by 149 N. Sandusky St. in Delaware. You can bring weed samples into the office or email photos to email@example.com.
Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District’s mission is Helping You Help the Land. Check out conservation programs and ideas at www.delawareswcd.org and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.delawareswcd.org.