Wildflowers Are Flowers Gone Wild

Periwinkle is pretty for a weed.

Wildflowers have been quite a fad. Relative to most fads, they are not so impractical. For some situations, they are a good excuse to waste less effort and resources on unrefined parts of the garden. Of course, they all require some degree of effort and resources. Most are neither as wild nor as natural as their marketing suggests them to be. Few are native. 

Wildflowers that lived here centuries ago, prior to the introduction of exotic species, were relatively unimpressive. Although some bloomed spectacularly, they did so within a brief season. Winter is too cool for pollinators that wildflowers intend to attract. Summer is too dry for bloom to last long. Most bloom was limited to the transition from winter into spring. 

The same native wildflowers bloom even less now than they did centuries ago because of competition with exotic species. Most exotic species that compete with wildflowers are feral forage crops that lack colorful bloom. They grow so vigorously that they obscure the natives. Mitigation of such undesirable vegetation ruins wildflowers that mature within it.

Most of the best wildflowers here now are as exotic as feral forage crops. Those that are native might be more reliant on unnatural cultivation. California poppy, evening primrose, and native annual lupines might prolong bloom with a bit of extra water through summer, but need weeding. With the same watering, (non-native) cosmos stands up to the weeds. 

Unfortunately, vegetation management is more important than wildflowers outside of the refined garden. Overgrown weeds are combustible and can be dangerous to pets. Weed whacking too often involves wildflowers before they get their chance to bloom, as well as foliage of spring bulbs after bloom. (It sometimes damages bark of trees and shrubs too.)

Some low and dense perennial wildflowers are more reliable than annual sorts because they exclude annual weeds. Saint John’s wort and periwinkle are invasive exotic plants, but work well as ground covers. Mowing or shearing them late in winter slows their competing weeds, and also enhances their foliar density before competing weeds regenerate.

Weeds Are Full Of Surprises

Pokeweed is rapidly becoming more common.

While it was busy naturalizing in Australia, South Africa and southern South America, the California poppy was getting forced out of parts of its own native range by more aggressive exotic plants that were also busy getting naturalized. Technically, any plant that is not native is exotic. Any exotic plant that becomes naturalized in a foreign environment is able to proliferate without any help, as if it were native. Naturalized exotic plants that get too aggressive become invasive weeds.

Weeds are plants where they are not wanted. This is a very broad definition that includes plants ranging from simple little dandelions in urban lawns to humongous bluegum eucalyptus in forests. Naturalized exotic weeds can be much more problematic than weeds that can only proliferate where they get watered in gardens and landscapes, because they can get established where they are not expected.

Water hyacinth that clogs the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta is not often a problem in terrestrial landscapes. However, giant reed, pampas grass, Acacia dealbata and blackberry brambles can infest home gardens just as easily as they infest wild lands. Because they do not need to be watered, they can get established and grow quite large in unused parts of the garden before anyone notices.

Many naturalized weeds somehow seem to much more aggressive and problematic than even the most prolific of native plants. Even the common native lupines are relatively docile compared to annual oat grass. Native blackberry may seem impossible to eradicate, but is actually neither as persistent nor as unpleasant to handle as the exotic Siberian blackberry!

Young weeds are easiest to pull now while the soil is still evenly damp, and young roots are only beginning to disperse. They will be more difficult to pull after roots are dispersed and soil hardens. Tree weeds and large perennial weeds that were cut down last year instead of pulled will likely need to be dug. Bermuda grass is a relatively low perennial grass that always seems to be difficult to dig. Mowing or cutting down annual grass weeds with a weed whacker will not eliminate them, but limits the development and dispersion of seed for the next generation. Burclover, sowthistle, bindweed, purslane, spurge and the various oxalis are some of the other common weeds that really get going this time of year.

Invasive Weeds Waste No Time

Aggressively invasive exotic species become weeds.

With few exceptions, the most aggressively invasive weeds here are exotic. In other words, they are not native. They came from other regions where they were likely compliant participants of their respective ecosystems. At home, where they must compete with other members of their ecosystem, they may not be so aggressively invasive. Ecology is the opposite of a home field advantage.

Exotic species become invasive weeds in foreign ecosystems for a variety of reasons. For some, the climate is more favorable. Some grow and proliferate more freely without diseases, insects and animals that troubled them back home. There are also several that simply compete more aggressively for space and resources than native species are accustomed to. It is a jungle out there.

Most invasive exotic species are annuals. Many are biennials or perennials. Some are vines, shrubs or even trees. Most were imported intentionally, for a variety of reasons, and then naturalized. Forage and cover crops were some of the earliest of exotic species to become invasive. Other invasive species escaped from home gardens. Blue gum eucalyptus was imported for wood pulp.

Regardless of their origins or physiological forms, invasive species are weeds. They compete for the same resources that desirable plants use. They impede on the aesthetic appeal of gardens and landscapes. Some types of weeds become hazardously combustible. Even if not directly problematic, invasive weeds disperse seed that can be problematic nearby. Many disperse stolons.

Most weeds start early and grow fast to get ahead of their competition. They are more active at this time of year than at any other time. They are also vulnerable. While the soil remains damp from winter rain, they are relatively easy to pull intact. They have not yet dispersed seed for their subsequent generation. Later, they are likely to leave behind seed and bits of roots that can regenerate.

It is important to pull or grub out seedlings of unwanted shrubbery and trees, as annual weeds. They are likely to regenerate if merely cut.

Snails, Weeds And Falling Leaves

Gardening does not slow for autumn.

The coloring of foliage is a bit slow this autumn. The cooling nights after such warm weather is bringing some of the deciduous foliage down while it is barely yellowing. Honeylocust and black oak have already gotten notably sparse without much notable color. Hopefully, the more colorful sweetgum, flowering pear, pistache and gingko trees will retain their foliage later into cooler weather, so that they can put on a worthy show before filling compost piles.

It is probably slightly too early to clean gutters and downspouts. Unless the rainy season somehow starts first, this should probably wait until most of the foliage that is expected to fall has already fallen. Lawns, certain ground covers, decks and pavement should be raked as needed though. Decks and pavement can get stained from the tannins that leach from decomposing foliage. Lawn and ground cover do not like the shade under the debris.

However, slugs and snails really dig the mess. Fallen foliage keeps the ground cool, damp and shaded. Raking leaves does not eliminate slugs and snails, but inhibits their proliferation. There are always plenty of other hiding places. As the weather eventually gets cooler and damp, snails that stay out in the early morning should be collected and disposed of. Of course this technique is not convenient for everyone, since most snails hide before the sun comes up. Small slugs hide earlier in the morning and are even more unpleasant to handle.

Once found, neither slugs nor snails are too elusive . . . or fast. Yet, plucking and collecting them is not a fun job. Once collected, no one knows what to do with them. They can be put into plastic bags and disposed of; and will eventually succumb. Some people prefer to simply toss them onto a dry and sunny driveway or roof where they succumb more quickly and get taken by birds. Snails may need to be squashed to limit mobility.

Even though it is too late to prevent most types of weeds from dispersing their seed, a few types continue to disperse seed as they deteriorate through autumn and winter. Weeds in areas that get watered last longer and disperse their seed later than those without watering. Perennial weeds that are still green in dry areas areas will be easier to pull after the first rain.

Horridculture – Weed Whackers

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This must be the better half.

This neatly sliced prickly pear is too silly to rant about. There is another just like it. Two others were not sliced, as if, after the first two, someone realized that there was more to the roadside meadow than combustible dry grass. The prickly pear were put out there just last winter. They each extended only a single pad half a foot or so above grade, so were obscured by the grass.

Realistically, the damage is minimal and tolerable here. The priority of the crew who performed the vegetation management was to cut down all the combustibles. They did an efficient job of it. They did not expect to encounter anything that had been intentionally installed out there, or even any desirable vegetation. Besides, this prickly pear will recover as if nothing happened.

Unfortunately, damage caused by weed whackers is rarely so innocuous. Weed whackers are one of the most commonly misused horticultural power tools, and are very often used by those who are not aware of how to use them properly. They are easy enough to operate that minimal consideration is given to the potential for damage that they can cause. It is a bad combination.

Because weed whackers are often and improperly used to cut tall grass that is too close to trees for lawn mowers to cut, they commonly strip off bark and cambium from young tree trunks. A tree can not survive without its cambium, and quickly dies if too much is stripped away from the base of its trunk. That is why it is very important to pull weeds from around trees instead.

For now, there is nothing to do for the two sliced prickly pear. The bud to the upper right corner of the pictured specimen is beginning to develop into a new pad.

Too Much Oregano

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Herbs should do so well in an herb garden.

Vegetation management after several weeks of neglect has been . . . interesting. While we were unable to work, and during their most active growth of the year, weeds proliferated more than they had ever gotten away with before. As most get cut down by weed whackers, I pull those that mingled with desirable plants that weed whackers must avoid. It is a tedious process.

One of the more tedious of these projects, and perhaps the most tedious so far, required the removal of abundant weeds from a dense row of carpet roses. Fortunately, it was not as bad as I expected it to be. They young man who weeded this area during winter had done a remarkably thorough job, and eradicated most of the dreaded oxalis and tougher perennial grassy weeds.

The weeds that I pulled were big and impressive, but pulled out relatively easily. A few thistles were unpleasant to handle, but even they came out easily. Mock strawberry between some of the roses was still in good condition after the weeds that mingled with them were gone. I realize that I do not adequately appreciate all the weeding that happens here that I am not aware of.

Besides mock strawberry, another species that gets to stay in parts of the area that it spreads into is some sort of oregano. It seems to be common Italian oregano, but also seems to develop leaves that are slightly larger than they should be. It is too docile to be a problem for the roses, but occupies space that would otherwise be taken by weeds. Besides, it is nice to have around.

Even oregano needs to be managed sometimes. Quite a bit of it got pulled from the roses along with the weeds. I suppose it must be dried now.

While You Were Out

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It’s a jungle out there!

Our work is the sort that could potentially continue as essential. Distancing is not a problem for us, since we generally work individually, and there are no guests here. However, work needed to be discontinued due to lack of revenue. A conference center can not generate revenue without big groups of guests. Even when groups can return, many potential guests can not afford to.

The chronology of this situation should have been documented more efficiently. We had been unable to work here for several weeks. I do not remember how long it had been. Work resumed two weeks ago, and can continue for six more weeks, for a total to two months. We will start no new projects during this time, but will primarily try to catch up on what was neglected earlier.

Salvage and preparation for resumption of neglect are presently the priorities. This entails vegetation management after weeds had been left to grow wild during their most active season. It is extreme. Most weeds either had dispersed their seed, or did so as they got removed. This is not much of a problem for areas that are not landscaped, but will be trouble within landscapes.

Weeds in areas that are not landscaped get cut down by weed whackers, and mostly left where they fall. Roots that remain within the soil, and debris dispersed over the surface, should limit dustiness later in the summer. Weeds in landscaped areas and where weed whackers can not get into must be pulled. We do not want young desirable plants to be ruined by weed whackers.

It is discouraging that no one is here to enjoy the landscapes that we put so much effort into while we can work. It is also discouraging to see how easily the landscapes can fall into disrepair.

Some Seeds Can Hurt Pets

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Foxtail is a potentially dangerous weed.

Weeds always have unfair advantages. They grow fast enough to bloom and disperse seed before the rain of early spring runs out, so they do not need any supplemental water. They seem to be able to grow anywhere. Their abundant seed seem to be able to get anywhere. Many produce seed with creative tactics for hitching rides on animals or being blown around by the wind.

This can be a serious problem for the unfortunate animals that interact with these exploitative weed seeds. Burclover and foxtail that are designed to stick to the short hair of grazing animals just long enough to get moved to greener pastures can get seriously tangled in the softer and longer fur of cats and dogs. Foxtail and other thin seeds can get lodged into noses, ears and eyes.

This is why it is so important to control these sorts of weeds, even if the landscape is not a priority. Gardens without resident cats can be visited by neighbor cats who can be hurt by dangerous weed seeds, or disperse the seed into other gardens. Mistletoe seed is not really so dangerous, but has a sneaky way of sticking to birds and squirrels for dispersion.

Thistles are more of an annoyance than actually dangerous. Their seed does not stick into fur. It just gets blown about in the wind. The problem is that the spiny foliage of some types is too painful to handle. If neglected long enough to go to seed, thistles can be seriously prolific. Because it is dispersed by wind, the seed can get anywhere without any help.

Weeds can be recycled in greenwaste, only because greenwaste gets sterilized in the recycling process. Some annual weeds can be composted if they get collected before they produce seed. If there is any seed, some of it may survive the composting process, and germinate wherever the compost gets used. It would be better to dispose of such risky biomass.

Likewise, crabgrass, dandelion, oxalis and other perennial weeds should not be composted because some of the stolons (modified stems) or roots survive the process. Just like seed, some of these surviving vegetative parts can grow into new weeds wherever the compost that contains them gets dispersed. Such resiliency is one of the qualities that makes them ‘weeds’!

Memorial Tree Update – March 22, 2020

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Memorial Tree – Before

Updates get complicated as they link back to previous updates to previous updates to previous updates and so on. Linking and reblogging from another blog adds more complication. The last update for the Memorial Tree was reblogged from Felton League on August 10. It and previous updates should link back to preceding updates chronologically. At least it sounds simple.

Another brief update that will reblog here from Felton League at noon will describe more of the social significance of the Memorial Tree rather than horticultural concerns. It really is special.

This little Memorial Tree has certainly been through some difficult times. Despite reassurances that it would not happen again, and that the tree would be outfitted with an ‘approved’ trunk guard, the trunk base has been gouged by weed whackers on more occasions than I can remember. That is an unfortunate consequence of efficient but unaware community service workers.

Such major damage severely inhibited growth. As it begins its fifth year, the Memorial Tree is barely six feet tall. By now, it should be developing branch structure above minimal clearance. Fortunately, it was quite healthy last year. If it continues to grow similarly this year, it will grow above six feet, where it can later develop scaffold limbs. I intend to apply fertilizer regularly.

Stubble had been left on the trunk to enhance caliper growth. That which was developing into significant branches was removed to concentrate resources into vertical trunk growth. Stubble that remains is minimal, but should be substantial enough by winter to get mostly pruned away again. It will more likely be unnecessary, and pruned away completely from the main trunk.

Binding is unfortunately still necessary. The species innately develops irregular form. Binding straightens the otherwise curved trunk. Once the trunk lignifies in the desired position, binding and the associated stake will not be necessary. The larger lodgepole stake holds the binding stake vertical, but is more important for protection from those who bump into the still small tree.

Weeds were removed from around the base of the Memorial Tree, so that there would be no need for a dreaded weed whacker to get close to it. Former damage is compartmentalizing well.

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Memorial Tree – After

Weeding Earlier Rather Than Later

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Rain makes weeds grow like weeds.

Weeding is not much fun. Some of us might enjoy the relaxing monotony of productive weeding. Realistically though, most of us would prefer to do something else in the garden. There is certainly plenty of other chores that need to be done now, after earlier rain, and before the weather gets significantly warmer. However, such weather is why it is important to start weeding earlier than later.

By definition, weeds are weeds, because they are unwanted. They get to be unwanted by dominating space and exploiting resources more aggressively than wanted plants. Some innately grow faster and more aggressively than most other plants. Some are innately prolific with seed. Some employ multiple tactics to gain unfair advantages. Weeding is how we help our gardens compete.

Weeds grow throughout the year. Most slow down through the dry warmth of summer, and many die off then. However, there are always some weeds growing somewhere. When they die off, it is only after they have dispersed seed for their next generation. Some generate a few generation annually. Some are perennial weeds, or even shrubs, vines and trees, which survive for many years.

Weeding is more of a concern now because the majority of weeds grow so much more aggressively after the earliest rain of winter. Warming weather later in winter accelerates their proliferation. This is the time of year that weeds start to crowd desirable plants. If weeding is delayed for too long, weeds eventually bloom and toss seed. Some weeds extend stolons to disperse vegetatively.

The good news is that the same rain that promotes the proliferation of weeds also facilitates weeding. Weeds are easier to pull while the soil is still damp than they will be as the soil dries later in spring and summer. Also, while weeds are still fresh and turgid, they are less likely to leave roots or stolons behind in the soil. They are more difficult to pull intact as they begin to deteriorate later.

Furthermore, weeding should be done before weeds bloom and disperse seed for subsequent generations. Some are sneaky and quick.