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.
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.
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’!
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.
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.
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.
Some of the biggest and nastiest weeds are thistles. The most common is annual sowthistle, which can get taller than four feet in just a few months. It is relatively easy to handle, since the bristly foliage and stems are somewhat soft, almost like coarse lettuce. Blessed milkthistle is much nastier, with sharp foliar spines that can penetrate boots! It can get more than five feet tall and broad!
Most thistles are biennials or perennials, with spiny lobed foliage. They produce low foliar rosettes during their first year, and then bolt and bloom on tall floral stalks during their second year. Biennials usually die after bloom, but sometimes regenerate from the roots later. Perennials are more likely to regenerate and bloom annually for several years. Some thistles get rather shrubby.
The roots of many types of thistle would not be too difficult to pull from well watered soil if only the spiny foliage were not so difficult to handle. Larger plants might be easier to pry out with a shovel. If foliage is merely cut off at the the surface of the soil, it will regenerate from the large tap roots left below. However, cutting down flower stalks before bloom interferes with seed dispersion.
Spring brings out the best and the worst in the garden. While warm season annuals and vegetables are getting established, so are a variety of weeds. Just like other annuals and perennials, they respond to the changing weather. Cool weather and moisture stratified their seed through winter. Warming moist soil prompts germination. Warm and sunny spring weather promts rapid growth.
There are all sorts of weeds. A few are big trees like bluegum eucalyptus and shamel ash. Some are substantial shrubbery, like privet and cotoneaster. Pampas grass and giant reed are big grassy perennials. The most familiar and prolific weeds are annuals or small perennials, like foxtail, burrclover, purslane, bindweed, sowthistle, pimpernel, spurge, crabgrass and Bermudagrass.
It is best to pull weeds as soon as they are big enough to grab onto. It will take more effort to pull them as they disperse their roots, and as the soil gets drier through spring. Unwanted shrubbery and tree weeds should be pulled like any other weed because they are likely to regenerate from roots if merely cut down. Once they recover and grow more, they will be much more difficult to pull.
Many small grassy weeds can be cut down low with a weed whacker, instead of pulled out completely. In some situations, low cut or mown weeds are better than bare soil. Some types of weeds will neither bloom nor disperse seed if mown. However, many types adapt to mowing by merely blooming and seeding lower. Dandelion and foxtail are notorious for their defiance to mowing.
Weeds are very efficient and creative with the dispersion of their seed. It is impossible to prevent seeds from coming into the garden from the outside. Yet, it is still best to inhibit the production and dispersion of seed from within the garden. Spurge and oxalis bloom and disperse seed in secret before they seem to be mature enough to bloom. Other weeds have taller or more prominent blooms that can be cut down before producing seed, even if the weeds are not actually removed completely.
Not many of our favorite plants grow like weeds. We must help most of them along, and give them what they want. A few might naturalize and perform well on their own, but if they do too well and become aggressive or invasive, they too become known as weeds. Although we might prefer some of our favorites to be easier to grow, we are probably fortunate that more do not do too well.
Conversely, not many weeds are appealing plants when they invade our gardens. They might not be so disdainful if they provided fruit, vegetables or flowers, or were less aggressive with other plants. Instead, the conquer and occupy useful space, consume resources, and then toss their seed for the next invading generation. Their aggressive invasiveness is what makes them weeds.
There is no easy definition of ‘weed’. We know them only as unwanted plants, or plants where they are not wanted. Most are exotic (nonnative) plants that were once imported at a time when they were actually desirable. Some were vegetable or flowering plants grown in home gardens. Some were forage crops. Blue gum eucalyptus was imported for wood pulp. A few weeds are native.
Weeds become weeds because they have distinct advantages. Most get an early start at the end of winter, while other plants are still dormant. Then, many weeds bloom and toss seed for the next generation earlier than other plants. Many lack the pathogens of their homelands. Weeds generally survive on less resources, or complete their life cycles before resources are exhausted.
Most weeds are annuals. Many are perennials, Some are shrubby or vining. A few are trees. One commonality is that they should be pulled as soon as they are big enough to get a grip on. They are easier to pull while the soil is moist from winter rain, and before they have dispersed their roots much. Some of the short term annuals are pretty quick and sneaky about dispersing seed too!
Weeds that are woody shrubs, vines or trees need to get pulled like the rest. If merely cut to grade, they will likely regenerate from their stumps, and need to be dug later.
Plants are quite ingenious with their technology of exploitation of animals and people. Many get insects, birds, bats, spiders and anyone who is animated within their environment to disperse the plants’ pollen for them. Plants who prefer to not rely on wind, water or gravity to disperse their seed exploit a different range of animals to do so. They know how to compensate for their immobility.
This sort of exploitation is generally not as bad as it sounds. Many pollinators are rewarded for their service with nectar or surplus pollen. Dispersion of many types of seed is likewise rewarded with the fruit that surrounds the seed. Many types of nuts produce significant surpluses of seed to reward squirrels for burying them, and leaving just a few to germinate and grow into new plants.
However, there are many types of seed that are not so gracious, and several that are potentially dangerous because of the tactics they use to exploit those who disperse them. Mistletoe is an odd parasitic plant that makes very sticky berries. Those that do not get eaten by birds (for later ‘deposit’) can stick to the feet or feathers of unconsenting birds in order to catch a ride to other trees.
It is sneaky but effective. Most other plants that use this technique are small annual plants that rely on mammals instead of birds. Instead of sticking to feathers, their seed are designed to stick to fur. Such seed are not often a problem for wild animals who have short fur that the seed can stick to only for short distances before slipping out and onto the ground where seed really wants to be.
Domestic animals are not so fortunate. They have longer, shaggier and maybe curlier fur that weed seeds such as foxtail and burclover can get very entangled in. Because foxtail is designed to go into fur but not come out, it is seriously dangerous if it gets into the eyes, ears or noses of domestic animals. Because dogs and cats go wherever they want to, it is very important to eliminate such weeds from gardens where dogs and cats live, and to hopefully do so before they go to seed.