Weed Wisdom

All of the recent rain has resulted in very lush gardens. The greenery is beautiful… but if you look closely – or even not so closely – you are bound to spot a weed.

So what is a weed? There is no plant that bears the botanical name of ‘ weed’, although weeds certainly exist! The Old Farmer’s Almanac describes a weed as essentially a plant growing where you don’t want it. Other descriptions include:

  • A plant not intentionally sown
  • A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered … R.W. Emerson
  • A plant considered undesirable in a particular situation or one whose undesirable qualities outweigh their good points
  • A plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows…Doug Larson
  • A plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth.

This basically means that the term ‘weed’ is contextual – i.e. a plant in the wrong place albeit a farm field, garden, lawn, or park. Of the approximately 250,000 species of plants worldwide, only 3 percent or approximately 8,000 species behave as weeds that most people would prefer not to see in cultivated areas.

Some weeds are considered beneficial. Positive benefits include their aesthetic qualities, soil stabilization, addition of organic matter, and creation of habitat and food for wildlife ( e.g. nectar for bees). Other weeds are deemed to be invasive. Most weeds can be appreciated for their tenacity, their wildness, and the connection to nature they provide. Regardless, common traits include:

  • Abundant seed productivity
  • Rapid population establishment and spread
  • Seed dormancy which results in long term survival. Seeds go dormant but they sprout just as soon as conditions are right

Weeds reduce crop and/or ornamental plant yield by competing for water, light, soil nutrients and space. Thus the primary methods of management include prevention, mulching and regular weeding. Top weed control tips include:

  1. Never let them set seed! Remove weeds before they flower and produce seeds. On average, it takes 5 years to deplete a weed’s seeds if no additional seeds are added. Thus it may take a few years to get your soil weed-free. Annual weedy grass seeds die after 2-3 years but broadleaf weed seeds can last much longer.
  2. Mulch. It takes 2-3 inches of mulch to block weed seeds from sunlight so they do not germinate. Mulch also promotes better water retention, provides nutrients to the soil as it decomposes and helps to moderate soil temperature.
  3. Pay special attention to perennial weeds. With these, you’ll need to dig up any roots, underground tubers and rhizomes without leaving any fragments behind. New weeds can grow from pieces that break off and remain in the soil. It does help to cut off the emerged green part of a weed with a how or mower each time it grows. Without leaves, the underground plant parts will become weakened and may eventually die.

Common weeds (with links to help you identify them) include:

We’ve been talking about a weed as a noun, but it is also used as a verb meaning ‘remove or clear of weeds’. Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be. Some people find it a kind of soothing monotony that leaves the mind open to develop new ideas or work through pressing issues.

If you’d like to help us reduce the number of weeds in the gardens and parks maintained by Cultivate Catskill, join us as we work to enhance the beauty of our area and help Catskill continue to bloom!

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