It might be worth stating, as a start to this blog entry, that we don’t view any plant as inherently BAD. Nope, not even weeds! Weeds are just plants doing the work they were programmed to do, in conditions favorable to their survival that we’ve either actively encouraged or passively allowed to exist. However, in one way or another, the plants we call “weeds” have work to do that runs counter to our own aims.
In general, we don’t pay too much attention to innocuous weeds that are just there: they don’t bother us much. But there are two very different types of weeds that are worth watching: 1. noxious & invasive weeds, and 2. Good Weeds.
In short, invasives are non-native/introduced species that tend to be aggressive competitors for resources (think takeover weeds); and noxious weeds have a detrimental economic impact and are regulated by federal and state agencies. (Check out the Oregon Noxious Weeds Lists and Pacific Northwest’s Least Wanted List for more information about these naughty guys.) On the other side of the coin, many Good Weeds serve us well: they attract beneficial insects, point to soil characteristics, add nutrients to our gardens, and feed us. So, which ones are which?
Our own current list of most bothersome garden invaders and favorite control strategies includes the following:
Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) This picture shows some of our Search and Rescue colleagues plowing through blackberry canes, which we (unfortunately, for many reasons) have to do quite often. To control, we recommend manual removal of canes and rootballs, then mowing—mechanical or biological!—to keep new foliage growth down & exhaust the plant.
English ivy (Hedera helix) This picture is Karen going a little crazy on the ivy-pulling front. For control, we recommend manual removal of foliage and roots; prioritizing cutting down all vines that run vertically (on which growth ivy flowers and fruits) to prevent reproduction; and using goats, when possible, to keep foliage from growing back.
Butterfly bush (Buddleja) The key to buddleja removal is trying to get it before it goes to (prolific) seed. We either do “one cut pruning”—cutting the whole thing off at ground level—and/or cut back the foliage, then do manual stump removal. Also check for seedlings in the area. This is a picture of a stump Isabel rocked till it popped out. Would that I could post a video–funny!
Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) The pretty flower looks just like morning glory, but we don’t advise ever letting the plant get established enough to flower! At that point, it will be taking over your garden… Do: remove all parts and pieces; lay black plastic over the affected area (this is called solarizing); sheet mulch thickly; and monitor regularly, especially at edges.
On the other hand, after reflecting on our “favorite” baddies, we’re reminded of the following Good Weeds, which we are loving (albeit still deterring, if they directly compete with our intentional plantings):
Little western bittercress (Cardamine ogliosperma) Yes, this a very clever and successful spreader: it shoots seeds out of seed pods when it is disturbed. And we know gardeners who fight it hard. But you’ve gotta love it, at least a little bit: all young aboveground parts (leaves, flowers, and seed pods) are edible—they are related to & taste like spicy broccoli/mild radish.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) Chickweed is a great salad green…mmm. As with any weed (or, really, any plant at all) that you plan to eat, make sure that your chickweed was harvested from a “clean” location: no dog poop, few passing cars, not in a septic field, etc. Just observe your surroundings and be appropriately cautious, and you, too, can harvest wild dinner!
Plantain (Plantago major) Plantain is a highly adaptable plant, growing broad and narrow leaved versions of itself in rich and poor soils…and cracks in the sidewalk. It is edible fresh (young leaves) and cooked, and is also medicinal. It’s rich in calcium and magnesium; accumulates silicon, sulfur, manganese and iron; & turned under to decompose, it helps deacidify soil.
Red deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) Edible (but not particularly tasty) member of the mint family, the stem tops and leaves are fine to use. It is also attractive to pollinators and other beneficial insects: it blooms in late winter/early spring and attracts wildlife before other plants are in bloom. This is a very good thing!
White clover (Trifolium repens) In addition to mosses, clovers are probably the most widely-viewed-as-annoying spontaneous additions to lawns. But please, please put away the weed and feed! Clovers are often used as cover crops in gardens because they fix nitrogen, and are wonderful soil-builders. Clover is also attractive to beneficial insects and pollinators.
And finally, we love dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): no picture necessary, right? Dandelions are rich in beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin A; most plant parts (not the puffy seedhead or oozy stem) are edible: a yummy coffee substitute can be made from roots, young leaves are great salad greens, and with the flowers…dandelion tea, or wine! Taproots bring up calcium, iron, and a host of other minerals from the deep soil, and the decomposing roots of dandelions produce humus. Flowering dandelions provide early spring pollen that attracts ladybugs and other beneficial insects to the garden. Almost all soils support dandelions; one that doesn’t is totally unfit for growing things. Eek.
In this season of prevalent lawn care and herbicide commercials, we hope that this short introduction to weeds we love and those we love to hate (well, just a little bit) helps to break down the idea of weeds into something much more complex and wonderful. I’m sure you have a few of your own “favorite” weeds in mind, likely in both the noxious/invasive and friendly/helpful categories. If you’re having trouble with or want to learn more about a weed that is not on our list (of which there are certainly many!), you might check out this great identification resource: Oregon State University Weed ID.
And this is still just the tip of the iceberg. There is yet more to come…