A weed is a plant in the gardener’s way, a pest. This is as defined as the term can get, for one gardener’s weed is another’s treasure.
For gardeners seeking smoothness, uninterrupted lines in beds and plants, any plant not in the original design is a weed. This gardener, on the other hand, loves rough edges, the unevenness and spontaneity of weeds scattered about the garden, like the single nasturtium on the corner of a bed where tomatoes now wait for summer, its seed launched from one of last year’s pots. This seedling is doing much better than the tomatoes at the moment, starting to trail along the bed edge. I hope that it will succeed, sprawl through the tomatoes and produce an abundance of blooms until frost, leaving a few seeds in its wake.
I feel the same about the violets that pop up in Marjorie’s garden, transplanting those underfoot to a safe spot, and do the same for the self-sown mulleins, calendulas, nicotianas, poppies and sunflowers. I have even been known to leave a patch of hawkweed at the edge of a bed, just to see the flowers.
Dandelions in the vegetable garden are a true weed, dug up on sight, but in the rest of the landscape they are welcomed, early fodder for pollinators and far more interesting than a smooth, wide expanse of lawn. They are allowed to produce seed where they grow with the daffodils, since the latter cannot be mowed until their leaves have withered, and thus there are always dandelion seeds on the wind, always young dandelions sprouting among the veggies. So be it.
The true weeds in Marjorie’s garden are two nonnative invasive perennials that spread by underground stems (rhizomes) as well as seed. We wage a never-ending war against quackgrass and yellow toadflax.
Quackgrass, Elymus repens, was introduced from Europe in the 1600s, probably as a seed contaminant. Found throughout the northern half of the U.S., it is listed as an invasive species in several states, but not yet in Maine.
Yellow toadflax, Linaria vulgaris, known by several other names including butter and eggs, flaxweed, wild snapdragon and Jacob’s ladder, was introduced to the U.S. from Eurasia as an ornamental in the late 1600s. It now can be found as a garden weed in every state except Hawaii.
These two weeds scoff at being pulled. Pulling them up leaves most of the rhizomes behind, ready to start new plants as soon as you turn your back. Rhizomes of quackgrass are thick, white and succulent with a sharp growing tip that will grow through plastic or fabric weed barriers. The underground stems of yellow toadflax are slender threads that break easily when pulled.
Weeds with rhizomes must be dug out of the ground using spade and hand, loosening the soil around the rhizomes before lifting the entire plant out of the ground and vigorously shaking off the soil. Take a tiller to these weeds and you propagate them, chopping the rhizomes into small pieces, each capable of growing a new shoot. Hoeing rhizomatous weeds produces the same results. Only removing entire plants will control perennial weeds in the garden.
Never throw rhizomatous weeds on the compost pile! They will take root and thrive on the edges of the compost pile while they await their return to the garden. We bury our harvests of toadflax and quackgrass in a brush pile, or we burn them.
There is great therapy in ridding the garden of these persistent weeds, making windrows of bare-root quackgrass and toadflax, rhizomes poking out in all directions, withering in the sun. I never dig them all, just the largest clumps, the ones in the way.
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