Saturday, April 25, 2009

What is a Weed? Tough Love Day in the Garden

One of the questions which newbie gardeners frequently ask is "Is this a weed?" It was very enlightening to me when I realized that weeds are simply the plants which I don't want growing in my garden. That's all. So rather than fretting over what is a weed, just observe the plant, and decide if you want it there or not.

If it is ALL OVER your garden, there is good chance you should be wary. But if just a few spring up, you can leave one to observe, but be careful not to let it flower and then set seed before you decide to remove it. I've made that mistake many times, and then pulled it by the hundreds the next year.

One of my first loves in the plant world is the hardy geranium "Victor Reiter". I love the deep burgundy deeply lobed/fringed leaves, and then the cheery purple flowers which appear to float above the foliage. (See photo below, lifted from a plant site - I'm too tired/lazy to look for one in my photo archives.) So I was happy to let my first plant reseed itself liberally in the garden. But it was interesting that of the offspring, some (maybe 20% or 25%) had the beautiful burgundy foliage, but the remainder had identical leaves, but just green. The flowers were the same. The green variant (which I guess it truer to the basic species) even seemed more vigorous and slightly larger. But not nearly as attractive.

For years, I have tolerated the green variant in my garden, allowing it to grow as a filler in some areas (since I have a very large garden, but have been filling it over time with a very nice collection of perennials). But this year I have finally had enough, and it's on my "weed" list. So I will be slowly removing all traces of this green geranium from my garden. Today I started with the lower hillside (next to the fairy garden). I filled a clear bag from this area, much of it the green geranium. I think of it as "tough love" for my garden. Clearing out the clutter, and making room for more varieties of plants.

Both the weather and my family cooperated today, so I was able to spend a total of 6.5 hours of hard work in the garden, mostly clearing old growth. My mom is planting a new garden area, so I was happy to dig up lots of seedlings which I have been hoping to get rid of. I have a hard time disposing of seedlings, so I tend to accumulate lots of them, waiting until I can find a home for them. I would love to donate to a plant sale, such as the local BRAGS one, but 1) don't have time to pot them up 2) don't want to lose too much soil. Since my mom agreed to take the seedlings and replant them the same day, I could dig them up with little or no soil.

I yanked a fairly good patch of my white Lychnis coronaria (rose campion). It reseeds itself very aggressively, even into my lawn. So I have decided to remove the ones crowding around my tree peony and choking out my strawberries, and just leave one strip of them, along the edge of the lawn.

I also showed some "tough love" on my purple osteospermum, which was hit hard by this cold winter. Usually, it comes through looking a bit straggly, but this year it looked dead on the top. So I am cutting the osteospermum way back, to where it is showing new growth:
New growth in osteospermum
Last year, I had noticed a single shoot of a daylily (possibly Stella D'Oro) growing up on the edge of one of my clumps of Astrantia major (masterwort). At the time, I made a mental note to separate them, but didn't get to it. So this year, I saw about 5 shoots, and decided it was time to do it once and for all. So I first took a shovel to the clump, and divided out the part with the daylily in it:
Clump of Hemerocallis and Astrantia intertwined
So far so good. But then the 1 hour job of separating out the two plants started. I was surprised how deeply connected they were. The Astrantia has very fine roots, which had intermingled with the daylily, and it was a fight to untangle & remove them. First I tried banging the clump to release the extra soil. Some soil was released, but the clump was pretty solid. So next I got a large bucket of water, and tried plunging the clump repeatedly to release the soil. But I still had a fairly tight clump:
Daylily and Masterwort
Then I tried to cut out the bits of Astrantiam using my garden clippers. I should have used a knife, but was too lazy to go back into the house for one. I was still not able to work the daylily plants loose, but I was able to remove most of the Astrantia. One they were washed, I could see that the daylily roots were beige, whereas the Astrantia were a dark reddish colour. So I kept pulling out the dark roots until they were pretty much gone. Finally, I had my clump of daylilies:
...and found a nice spot for them in the garden.

I cleared a number of areas today, and planted in some of my purchases from last weekend. So by the end of the day, my hands were aching, and then after I came inside, I found out how much my feet were hurting too. But I guess I consider it a good day in the garden if I can work until I'm hurting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lily. Your words on weeding should be photocopied and distributed at plant centers to benefit timid gardeners. Pulling weeds from the edges and between established clumps of perennials is hugely rewarding, but the thought of wading into the thick of things where the roots get entangled makes me tremble. Thanks for the inspiration.

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