Weeds: the worst and the not so bad

melissa_thefarm(NItaly)August 24, 2011

I mentioned in my post on the benefits of weeds that I wanted to begin a post on weeds, and here it is. My two questions are, what are your worst weeds, and why? and which are the ones you're actually rather fond of, or that at least have some positive or endearing qualities? The rule is that if a plant is wild and self-sows into your garden, it can be considered a weed--or not, as you please; in other words, you can talk about desirable wild plants as weeds or just concentrate on the more dubious members of your plant community. If you know the botanical names of the weeds you mention, it would be helpful if you give it; sometimes I don't know the common names of weeds, and in this I imagine I have company.

I fight an endless battle against Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) and bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis); and there's another invasive grass from hell, that spreads like B.g. but is much taller and bigger in all its parts: could this be Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense)? Fortunately it's not all over the garden like Bermuda grass, but worrisome where I do find it. There are two major very tiresome weeds that I don't know the names of: one is an Asteraceae (daisy-aster family) with a vague resemblance to chicory and wild lettuce: it has yellow flowers and a taproot and all its growth is sticky and somewhat prickly, and it seeds like mad. Another may be an Apiaceae (carrot-parsely family), annual, that has tiny white flowers and make zillions of extremely clingy seeds that have to be removed from clothing one by one. I've thrown clothing away because of this plant. Thistles (Onopordum acanthium?) are an awful weed that must be attacked with leather gloves and a shovel: fortunately we don't have an large population of them. Wild clematis (Clematis vitalba) is terrible: it seeds freely, and if the seedlings aren't caught they can overwhelm anything. Elms (Ulmus minor) are even worse; it's impossible to live with the invasive roots of elms, and nothing short of serious poison will kill them. Our wild ligustrum (L. vulgare) is invasive. Knotweed has no redeeming features, beyond that of being a plant, but it doesn't rival these others listed for obnoxiousness. Mallows (Malva sylvestris?) are deeprooted and hateful but not a large population in our garden. We have areas of a wild non-edible strawberry (Potentilla?), another weed that has to be dug out with a shovel. Oh heavens, how could I forget Artemisia vulgaris and stinking Parietaria officinalis, both perennial and invasive. We have a variety of ugly grasses but I don't know their names.

Now, nice weeds. I leave out all the pleasant herbaceous wild plants that populate the garden, and concentrate on those are are honest to goodness weeds but with some virtues. Most of them are edible. I like to have a population of dandelions (Taraxacum officinalis) on hand, both for our rabbit and for occasional spring or fall salads. Dandelions are almost ornamental, and (I had to read this in a book to know it) their flowers are fragrant. Nettles (Urtica) are edible, and who knows why else, I rather like to see them around...perhaps because they suggest fertile soil. Chicory (Cichoruma intybus) is edible and has beautiful flowers. Violets (Viola odorata) are invasive, but they're also fragrant and lovely (and edible), so I forgive them their faults and just pull them where I don't want them. I get along fine with plantain (Plantago).

No doubt there are many others, but these are some of my weeds. How about you?


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rinaldo(z7b AR)

Bindweed is awful, but nothing is quite as terrible as nut grass (nut sedge). Henry Mitchell wrote that whole fields in India were abandoned because of it. I've seen it it come up through landscape cloth, deep standing water, and a five foot pile of hot sand. It is evil--pure evil-- and hard to eradicate without the use of chemicals strong enough to kill everything else in your garden.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 6:12PM
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We have lots of plants in California that are not native, but were brought here from somewhere else, and have now naturalized and are growing "wild". Some of them are, of course, just weeds that came in by accident, but some of them are "garden" plants elsewhere that were imported on purpose and liked the climate so much that they have spread around.

Some natives, of course, will volunteer in our gardens too.

My favorite plants that volunteer in my garden tend to be those with pretty flowers that make a real statement: valerian (Jupiter's Beard) - 2 colors of pink, and also white; yellow oxalis - carpets broad areas with bright yellow every Spring - they pull up easily if they threaten to overwhelm more dainty plants; forget-me-nots, which weave themselves among the roses; and of course sun flowers (which is cheating, because they grow from the bird seed). Other volunteers that we tolerate: iris foetida, English ivy, seedling roses, and lunaria, which has pretty purple flowers and then makes great dried arrangements - we call it "money plant".

My least favorite weeds/volunteers are: any tree seedling (we get plums, black walnuts, privets, oak, eugenies, acacia, tree of heaven), thorned blackberry, poison ivy, and the tall grass weeds. Of course, there are lots of other little weeds that I don't know the name of that get pulled up when a bed is weeded, but most of them are smothered out by all of the other plants that are everywhere - my garden has hardly any dirt that is not already covered by something.


    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 6:27PM
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In our local town on the pavements and some people's places I have visited, Karkee Bur and Catheads are the most alwful low cover ground covering weeds. The Karkee burr has so many tiny little sharp seeds and if you walk on them with bare fare you might not get the sharp bits out of your skin for quite some time. I dig them out as soon as I discover them.
The cat head has three sharp points on it and very painful if you walk on them with bare feet. They get carried around on peoples shoes and on car tryes if they don't come off by the time you drive home.
My property was just paddock when I started and was free of Karkee Bur. A few very small areas of it have been comming up which I think come in with some mulch I once got. There are some Cat Heads way down the back of my 30 acres which I have, I think that may have been spread there by the neighbouring cows. I haven't checked down there where they were for years. The Blackberries are starting to take over the back paddock, I will have to do something about them soon.
We have Patterson's Curse which are good for the bees, but which we don't like, as it covers the paddocks with a purple in Spring and early Summer. You mow them but they still keep comming back with there purple flower no matter how tiny the plant ends up. If let go the plants of Patterson's Curse get so big and stop other things from growing.
There are thistles, St John's Wort and Saffron thistle, so you mow or slash these.
One little native ground cover that I have come across a few times here smells like spearement when you walk on it. Lovely it is.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 8:10PM
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The very worst is poison ivy. Burs and trees seedlings where I don't want them are next. The burs are bad because we have a collie. You can imagine the mess and work required when even a few fail to get weeded. Tree seedlings must be addressed in their first season, the sooner the better, or they require a shovel. Longer than that and they must be cut and Round-uppped (is that a word?) repeatedly. Especially bad are the allelopathic plants; black walnut Japanese Honeysuckle etc. The Honeysuckle is a scourge here because the local parks and preserves have allowed it to grow everywhere, acres and acres of it. Only within the past year have they begun to remove a swath here or there. Much more remains than has been removed. Pea-vine as they call it here, we used to call it Morning Glory, is another nasty. You never get all the root. You just wear it out over many many years. Nut grass is, I agree, another weed which is very difficult to eradicate. The Barren Strawberry (Wallenbergia?) has taken over the Sweet Woodruff and much else. Thistles are not nice. Garlic Mustard is not only invasive but also stinky. But my very favorite pet hate are the no-name burs that never ever come up with just pulling but always always require a shovel which I do not always have with me when I see them and so I try to pull them up. Instead the tops break off and the roots stay getting stronger and stronger. I know I cannot get them out without a shovel and yet I weaken and try anyway. All I can say is that I am getting better at waiting until I have the shovel.

Tolerable weeds, even lovely weeds, even fields and fields of them, are wild chicory (I did roast the roots, ground them and made coffee once. I prefer mine in the French Quarter of New Orleans), Queen Anne's Lace, Goldenrod, Ironweed (Vernonia), Violets, Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria, I think), wild phlox, wild geranium, wild larkspur (Ajacis tricorne, I think), Trout Lily (Erythronum), or maybe this was planted by someone before me, wild ginger (Asarum canadense), Trillium (erectum I think), Bloodroot, grasses as long as they stay in the fields, bittersweet, Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Staghorn Sumach, Redbud, Dogwood, Russian Olive and Osage Orange.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 12:11AM
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Campanula UK Z8

how astonishing to read Cath's list of weeds - many of these are treasured plants here in the UK. Erythroniums - I can hardly bear to mention how much I have just spent on 10 bulbs of E.Californian Beauty. Redbud - I lost my gorgeous Forest Pansy (Cercis canadensis) but have a small Cercis chinensis thriving in a corner of my plot. As for Ironweed - it took me a long time to find a good specimen (Vernonia crinata) - at this point, I apologise for any dodgy spelling or vague resemblances of botanical names.
Even so, I also rather enjoy Valerian (Centranthus ruber) and have a variety of hues between white and red. Mostly, my favourite weed this season has been toadflax (linaria something) the tall purple one. I also have pink (L.Canon Went) and White (can't recall name) and many variations between them - a lovely froth which sits perfectly with umbellifers such as ammi and seselli. Tree seedlings are infuriating in many of my customers gardens but a rarity on my allotment but viciops brambles (rubus) appear everywhere to injure the unwary (me).
Most annoying weeds are generally various grasses which infest my pots, sneak in my lavender hedges and really, really confuse me in amongst my ornamental grasses and prairie perennials. Bindweed, hah' I used to obsess about this (before I made the aquaintance of mallow sylvestris) but am now quite blase. Luckily the horrid maretail (name escapes me) is not resident on my allotment.....but there are a zillion asteraceae types which have enraged me....including dandelions since both my neighbours have millions of them less than 1 metre away from me on both sides. Ox-eye daisies are rampant - I love them but if I am negligent about shearing them back, I pay the price. If I am not vigilant, my plot would also be totally overrun with sunflowers, calendula, verbena bonariensis and borage. The lovely campanula persicifolia is turning into something of a thug too. Have given loads away...and still it seeds around.
The worst weed I deliberately introduced is tansy- what was I thinking. horrible running stems, viciously deep in my sandy soil.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 4:49AM
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My worst weeds are the creeping cinquefoil I mentioned before, Potentilla reptans, dandelions, cleavers (Galium aparine), vetches, especially Vicia cracca, and my pet hate Geum urbanum, wood avens. The latter is not really bad, but sneaky. The leaf rosette is not obvious but the burrs are so ugly. It's easy to pull. I have got rid of most bindweed, luckily it was in one place only, so I covered the whole area with black plastic for a season. Oak and maple seedlings are troublesome because they very soon become too difficult to pull.

Tolerable weeds are some native flowers I encourage in wilder parts of the garden, Hepaticas, wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa), cowslips (Primula veris), harebells, wood cranesbill (Geranium sylvaticum). I remove all in beds except the hepaticas. I used to tolerate wild strawberries but not anymore. It's too rampant.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 7:55AM
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Weeds are a constant enemy on this old farm soil of ours. Any area left fallow (including planting beds and paths) soon becomes a hot spot for weeds of all types. We have a dizzying array of seasonal superstars, from the winter annuals, perennial pests, and summer annuals that shoot for the sky. If I were to list them all, I would certainly be here all day.

I looked at the Virginia Tech weed ID site one day, and I discovered that I think I have almost all of them. I went through the list one by one, saying, "Got that one ... and that one ... and that one. This one is aquatic, and I don't have a pond, but I think I have it, too."

When we first bought this place in 2002, the fences and tree lines were overrun with MY worst enemies at the time, poison ivy, honeysuckle, forsythia (feral), blackberry, walnut, and alanthus. The scale of the problem demanded the use of herbicide, and Round Up is the best at getting things like this under control. I have lost count of the number of gallons of RU that I have sprayed in the past nine years, but I know that it numbers in the hundreds ... I just sprayed four gallons late last week. The only weed I have that RU won't kill is winter creeper, and that grows at a reasonable rate and it's fairly easy to control by pulling.

Don't even get me started on Poke Weed.

For grassy weeds (like Bermuda, crabgrass, and Johnson Grass), Ornamec is the chemical of choice. It's a selective grass-only herbicide that does a very good job of killing grass weeds without harming broadleaf plants ... like roses. It can require two or more applications, especially if the grass is well established, but it definitely does the job.

I attacked a thicket of overgrowth last month, with blackberry, poison ivy, multiflora rose, mulberry and walnut trees, and whatever else was in there. Two sessions with Round Up, two to three weeks apart, and the dead remains are ready to be cut out of there with a chainsaw and a bush hog. Once this is done, I will clean up anything that remains with RU again, and I will plant grass.

The moral of this story is ... don't be afraid of limited, judicious use of herbicide. Round Up is safe and effective, if used properly. Most of the scary articles out there are from wide-spread commercial farming use of RU, not selected spot application like the way I use it in my home garden.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 8:13AM
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seil zone 6b MI

Reading Campanula's post made me think of a story I heard once. A visitor from China was very upset when he saw someone pulling out dandelions and chucking them. It seems in China they are sold as potted plants! One man's weed is another man's treasured specimen. And proves the point that all plants started out as weeds somewhere.

I'd have to agree that poison ivy or any of the poison plants are the worst ones to deal with but creeping charlie is my bane around here. That and the picker plants, some kind of thistle I think, that spread like crazy in the lawn. I like to be barefoot when I'm out working and I hate stepping on them! And there's this broad leaf thing with a flower spike in the middle that can spread fast too if I don't get it before it flowers.

Some weeds I don't mind though. Mom always left one wild nicotiana to bloom because they smell so good and I've continued the tradition. And I love the beautiful flowers on Queen Anne's Lace. I've let the violets go in certain spots because they cover the ground in deep shade where even the grass won't grow and they are a pretty sight in bloom in the spring.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 12:06PM
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Oh dear, the mention of Johnson Grass started the little sing-song-ditty going in my head that always plagues me when I come across it:

Johnson Boys eat peas and honey;
they have done it all their life.
Makes the peas taste kinda funny;
but it keeps them on the knife.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 12:28PM
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Perhaps because I live in the lower foothills on the fringes of undeveloped land, I see a lot of weeds that are despoiling wild areas as well as gardens. Despite the fact that it is native to this area, poison oak is the one I hate the most. I would cheerfully see it made extinct, an opinion that horrifies true environmentalists (some of whom actually plant it!) We don't have poison ivy (the vining plant) here in the west, but poison oak can grow into great impenetrable thickets six to eight feet tall and acres in breadth.

The next despoiler of the land for me here is milk thistle. It grows about head high, seeds aggressively, persists for years in the soil, and makes it impossible to walk across the ground without some kind of armor. It too will cover vast sweeps of disturbed land, such as our hill, which we are required by law to disk every year for fire abatement.

A nasty plant because it is so wildly successful is broom, not only Scotch broom but broom of all kinds. It is an invasive plant over much of western United States to the point that I cringe when I see it in nurseries. It is to the west what purple loosestrife is to the east, a pretty imported plant that has destroyed the diversity of vast swathes of land.

All of these plants are a disaster, making great areas unusable either for humans (the poison oak) or for the animals who originally inhabited those places. I have many weeds in my garden that are common and difficult to manage, including but not limited to Bermuda grass, oxalis in both forms, bur clover, field bindweed, Canada thistle, Russian thistle, purslane, Himalayan blackberry, and all the various exotic grasses. However, these are nothing compared to poison oak, milk thistle, and broom.

Actually, I've seen areas where the Himalayan blackberry (thank you, Luther Burbank) should be ranked up with my big three as a ruiner of land. It can do to an unused piece of ground what I have seen Rosa multiflora to to fallow land in the east, turn it into a bramble patch unfit for plowing.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 1:56PM
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Oh, I forgot the garden cress. This pernicious weed I actually planted from a seed packet sold by a well known nursery and touted as a substitute for water cress. No way. Although edible, it does not taste especially good. It is a winter weed and so not susceptible to herbicides because the weed is not growing rapidly. And the seedpods shoot the seeds out like touch-me-nots when brushed against just to ensure wide coverage. That purchase was made many years ago and lately I have begun seeing that cress in the local forest preserve. I just hunch my shoulders, pull up ny collar and slink away.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 5:59PM
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Spanish needle, wild Ageratum, Cardinal vine, Oxalis, Bermuda grass, nut grass. Before I knew any better, I actually allowed the Ageratum and Cardinal vine to go to seed because I thought they were pretty. That was three or four years ago, and I'm stilling snatching them up by the hundreds. The Olaxis is something my mother deliberately planted many, many years ago (it's sold by bulb companies), and she unfortunately gifted it to me in a potted cutting. I've been fighting it ever since. It has literally taken over my mother's entire yard, both lawn and flower beds, but I'm fighting it tooth and nail. Herbicide runs right off the leaves, and even if enough stays on to kill the leaves, it doesn't seem to affect the little bulbs.

Oh, and not a weed but Mexican Petunia. I planted one plant of it before I knew it was invasive here, and I'm still trying to get rid of the seedlings. I even discovered a patch of it growing in the creek like a water weed. It apparently doesn't care whether it's feet are wet or dry.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2011 at 4:41PM
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One man's meat is another man's poison. Like campanula I am amazed that some of our most cherished American plants are weeds at home. One American plant that is becoming invasive here is goldenrod, originally planted as an ornamental plant in European gardens. I do wish you could send me a few white erythroniums!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2011 at 5:52PM
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Worst weed- Wormwood (artemisia) smells awful and grows everywhere!

Worst Weed/Honorable mention- Bindweed is a pain...and I have this mutant clover that wants to grow over everything else! Luckily, it's contained to one small part of the garden.

Best weed- I have a little daisy weed that grows everywhere. Too much of it is not good, but a few mixed in with the lavender and roses are charming.

Best weed/Honorable mention- A weed that's kind of sticky and has little yellow flowers, in early summer. Not very pretty, but brings in TONS of ladybugs. I leave a few in the back of the gardens...at least until the ladybugs show up, to eat the aphids on my roses :)

    Bookmark   August 26, 2011 at 6:35PM
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I would if I could but cannot send the white erythronum. I have tried to dig it and cannot dig deep enough to find the bottom. They are in the woods and digging is a challenge. One thing I have found though is that it blooms much better if fertilized with bulb food or triple phosphate. We are a little low on phosphate but not tremendously so. Hope this helps.


    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 1:35AM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

The worst weeds left on my suburban lot are the ones that hug the ground or fall from the trees: oxalis, purslane, poa annua, spurge, crabgrass and ailanthus trees, ash trees, and locust trees. I spend a lot of time hunkered down on my heels.

I like the mallow weeds. I let them get to be about six inches tall before I pull them, because they come out root and all so deliciously, so unlike all of the other weeds.

There are no attractive weeds here. No pretty buttercups, clovers, or daisies- nothing like that.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 2:09AM
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I dislike the deep rooted weeds that are difficult to pull like dandelion and volunteer tree seedlings. Every year I somehow miss spotting a few weed trees and have to dig them out. I also really dislike creeping charlie. I just spent a couple hours pulling creeping charlie from my yard. I also dislike the tall prickly weeds that sting when you try to pull them without gloves. I don't know what they are, and I don't get many, but every year I mistakenly grab one and get stung.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 3:24PM
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There's a very delicate vine/weed here that I think might be Porcelain Vine. It comes up everywhere in certain beds and grows very fast. The stems are only slightly thicker than a thread. It is easy to pull up, but hard to eliminate. Another vine out of hand here is Passion Flower, I guess passiflora edulis. Virginia Creeper spreads rampantly by seed, and English Ivy comes up I guess from seeds. I have a little bit of poison ivy and was afraid I had brushed against some this week. I spray painted it purple so I wouldn't forget where it is. Am hoping to get my husband, who is not allergic to it, to pull it up. I wonder if spray paint might kill a weed as well as Roundup. I kind of like the looks of the purple painted poison ivy.

A weed I like here is a wooly mullein. It has large wooly silvery leaves and a tall 5' stalk of yellow flowers. Doesn't reseed very much so is ok here. Many of my other weedy plants were planted on purpose but turned out to be invasive, like the hardy ageratum, tall phlox, Mexican petunia, and "Obedient" plant. I don't like pokeweed either. Tree seedlings are a big problem for me, and so hard to get rid of when they come up close to a rose.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 4:01PM
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I'm glad to read all these reports; they're interesting! Thanks to everyone who's written in.

Rosemeadowgardener: I don't recognize any of the weeds you list; are they Australian natives, or exotic: do you know their botanical names?

Thank God we don't have one of the worst curses of North America here: no poison ivy, oak, sumac.

How interesting to read Marianne's weed list from the other end of the European temperate zone and discover that I have all the nasty weeds she does, and several of the nice ones. Galium aperine is an unpleasant plant, sticky and climbing, but there are a number of other Galium species that grow locally that are rather nice. Sweet woodruff is Galium odoratum. Our native primrose is Primula vulgaris; and we too have anemones, hepaticas, wild geraniums--harebells I think not.

Connie speaks of the huge weed population of her property, which is an old farm. We too garden on a former farm and downhill from a current one, and I agree with what her post suggests, that agricultural properties present particular weed problems. Ongoing plowing leaves ground permanently disturbed, given weeds fertile ground to grow; grazing animals can trample ground, and the hay brought in to feed them can bring weed seeds from other areas. The year after the shade garden was flooded with manure from a cattle enclosure above, the weed population there was amazing. And we get great numbers of weeds, some of them highly obnoxious, along the drainage ditches that descend from our neighbors' plowed fields through our own land. Then, if fields and pastures are abandoned, they begin to go to brush, and you get brambles and other colonizing species--Connie's plant list is different from mine, but the process is the same.

What the heck is Creeping Charlie? A couple of you have mentioned it.

The various posts have covered quite a bit of territory, not only in the literal sense, on the topic of weeds. Paula took up the issue of invasive exotics that push out native species on undomesticated land (as well as the native but obnoxious Poison Oak). This is a problem all over the world, of course. I read in that interesting book 'Ecological Imperialism' about how many plants flourished in Europe along with the development of agriculture and became weeds, then traveled all over the world with European colonizers and established themselves in temperate zones everywhere, often at considerable cost to native species. We too have our exotic invasive species--one standout here in the hills is black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, originally from North America--but I wonder what the effect has been on our native flora of a few thousand years of tolerably intensive agriculture. Were there species that went extinct because they were useless to humans and occupied land that could be used for farming and other useful activities? Some plant populations exist in part as a result of human activities: we have a rich population of native orchids many of which grow in pasture land and are now threatened because grazing is disappearing and the land is turning to brushland and then to woods. But perhaps three thousand years ago the orchids that grew were those adapted to woodlands?

Lavender lass: do you know the species name of your artemisia? We have one ugly native artemisia, A. vulgaris, but a couple of nice ones.

Another pleasant weed I remembered is lemon balm, Melissa officinalis--what a fine plant to share a name with. It's too invasive to plant, but grows wild at the edges of beds, is fragrant, and has fresh green leaves that are pretty in spring. I feel better every time I see it.

I like mulleins too. We have a woolly species similar to what erasmus describes which makes a fine ornamental; the problem is that it seems to need a somewhat lighter soil than is present in most of our garden; otherwise it's not fussy.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 2:35AM
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Creeping Charlie (aka ground ivy) is a very common weed in the eastern half of the US I believe. It spreads like an ivy through lawns and especially enjoys shady areas. It was brought over by European settlers. It could be pretty, I guess, if it wasn't such a complete thug. The weed hanging over the wheelbarrow on the left is Creeping Charlie.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 9:05AM
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seil zone 6b MI

Yep, that's the stuff all right! And if you'd like more of it I have plenty to spare!

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 12:28PM
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Creeping Charlie is Glechoma hederacea. Black Locust was planted by the pioneers for bee forage because it blooms early and so is available before most other plants are. It is also fragrant but, yes, it's a traveler.

It was strange to me that you said Mullein will not grow for you because of the clay soil. We have a heavy clay soil and mullein grows wild here. Perhaps they are different species. I do not know the name of the species that grows here.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 2:36PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Melissa, you read Ecological Imperialism? Sheesh. Good for you. I only read about it.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2011 at 1:42AM
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Campanula UK Z8

gardening on a public allotment has had an enormous effect on how I regard weeds - for the first few years, mindful of the 'one year seeding, 7 years weeding' rule, I got right down to it with vim and vigour. Naturally, if the next plot is a weed pit, weed-removal is bound to fail. Time to try glyphosate - which did work....temporarily. I soon realised that the blissful experience of nice clear paths and beds could only be maintained by numerous spray sessions. Hmmmm, not to be defeated, I aimed for the corridor of isolation, erecting various barriers between my plot and next doors. Utterly futile...although the timber edgings did sort of stop the couch and creeping buttercup away. Finally, the obvious occurred to me - if you cannot change your situation, change your thinking. I decided to look at weeds through glazed eyes. Amazingly, this works. If I squint down the length of my plot, it looks verdant and lush with bright spots of colour depending on what is flowering. Right now, ragwort and various other thistly things (variations on hawkbit, hawkweed etc.) are having a field day. The ox-eye daisies are also having another go round. The overall effect is rather charmingly informal and at certain times of day, facing the evening sun, for example, the whole plot looks positively thrilling. I leave all ground which I am not using to grow a weed cover, I only weed the immediate surroundings of roses and perennials and I often just leave the weeds in little piles as a kind of green mulch. I now regard weeds as a kind of green manure and cultivate a garden style which suits the loose aggregations of dandelions, fat hen and so on.
I can hardly believe how much time and agonising has been spent on the futile quest of weed removal and have become almost evangelistic to new plot owners to embrace the whole process of natural cycles (needless to say, they are usually still killing themselves) - quite a few of them give up at this point, feeling gardening failures. I even can't help feeling that we have somehow been a bit suckered in by a rapacious horticultural market, to go against our deeper instincts (live and let live) trying to fit a aspirational and hopelessly inappropriate pattern on something which should really be free of media blandishments, competition, impossible standards championed by magazines and blinkered ideals of 'perfection'. What's more, I have installed a little cooker in my allotment shed which means I can now merely sit, with a nice cup of tea, admiring the lushness and fecundity of growing things....instead of leaping up to furiously yank at yet another sneaky dock. Better for the soil and definately better for my blood pressure.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2011 at 9:35AM
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I'm guessing it's your A. vulgaris...it's not popular around here, but looks very much like the artmesia for sale, at the plant stores. My niece is allergic to it, so it's the only thing we spray, out in the field. In the garden, I can keep it pulled, before it gets too tall. Out in the field, it gets very woody...it seems to thrive in dry, rocky soil. The local farmers call it wormwood...and do not like it, at all.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2011 at 11:58AM
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This is a great thread.

For me, the worst are poison ivy, oak, and sumac, closely followed by thistles.

The not so bad: Queen Anne's lace, bachelor's buttons. I've even gotten kind of fond of the dandelions.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2011 at 11:47PM
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Kristin flower and Cath41, thanks for the information on Creeping Charlie, and especially for the name. With a botanical name I can travel far. I checked in my fascinating 'Flora Piacentina' (actually that's the name of the last edition; the current edition's title translates as 'Updated Checklist with Commentary of the Vascular Flora of the Province of Piacenza', but the old title is a lot prettier as well as more compact) and found that Glechoma hederacea is native here; then I took a look at it at Google Image. Well. I think I transplanted Creeping Charlie into my garden. My only excuse is that it's far more attractive than just about all the plants it's competing with: no regrets so far. Also the Google search turned up a variegated form of this plant, and I think I have it as well, still in a pot--but escaping--from when I got it in a plant exchange this spring.

Cath41, mullein is a plant of waste places here, decidedly not fussy, and yet I've had year old plants die on me over winter, and the only reason I could think that might be was excessively heavy soil in very wet and cold weather. Plants that have survived and flourished have been in terraced, much amended soil and in the propagation beds, they too with relatively light soil. The mullein I'm talking about may be Verbascum thapsus; at any rate it has a big basal rosette of velvety, silver gray-green leaves, and a tall flower stalk with small, lemony-yellow flowers. It's not our only Verbascum species, but is the showiest, and is an exceedingly stately, handsome, architectural plant.
Here instead black locust is a relatively late flowerer, coming in May with the hawthorn; but we're zone 7-8 with a fairly mild climate.

Renee, why not give 'Ecological Imperialism' a try, if the topic interests you? It's intended for a general audience and is quite readable, not a technical tome at all; and it makes plenty of interesting points.

Lavender lass, check Google Image; I suspect yours is a different artemisia than A. vulgaris, because no sane person would cultivate the latter as an ornamental. Except for the yellow-variegated form, which someone gave me a while back, and which I hope doesn't end up taking over the garden.

Food for thought, Suzy. I certainly practice the art of looking the other way when a part of the garden looks terrible--as much of it does now after a month of drought and blazing sun, the low point of the growing year--but I haven't quite reconciled myself to the thought of weediness as the permanent condition of my garden. I dream of my own Eden, I suppose: a kind of garden always to be worked toward but never to be attained: my gardening life is a horticultural Pilgrim's Progress.
For myself, the longer I garden the clearer it becomes to me that the creation of an aesthetically satisfying garden is only a part of my goals and satisfactions. I garden to observe nature, and to interact with it; I garden to propagate new plants and so create new life; I garden to improve the soil of my land and improve the environment. I can't dictate to other people what kind of gardening they ought to be doing, or why they ought to have a garden at all. But I agree with you that the emphasis on perfection of a certain sort is bad for the environment, for one thing, and actually shuts the gardener off from certain considerable pleasures.


P.S. Anita, glad you're enjoying the thread!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 3:34AM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

The seed-spitting garden cress used to be a big problem for me until I learned that applying fresh mulch in the fall would prevent 95% of it.

Ailanthus trees were all over my wild, steep hillside lot when I built, and though I dig up trees that appear near the garden, the roots are everywhere and ineradicable. Every time I replant a rose, I dig out a bunch of the nasty yellow roots, and of course they come right back. Little trees constantly pop up among the roses, probably hundreds per year. Although the species is allelopathic, most of my roses grow OK in the midst of these roots.

I have a bank planted with stuff like candytuft that I have to crawl over three times a year to get the ailanthus, nightshade (pretty flower!) and creeping poison ivy.

My favorite weed is Tradescantia virginiana "Widow's Tears."

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 3:29PM
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