much ado about weeds

Bishops Weed

Weeds are opportunistic plants. They grow pretty much everywhere. Not everyone considers weeds weeds.

For example, take Bishops Weed which is a bane of many gardeners’ existence including mine. Bishops Weed, also known as Gout Weed, and sometimes Ground Elder. It is actually in the carrot family and it has these nasty fibrous roots that just spread. And it has a disgustingly vigorous growth habit. I have been battling it in my garden for years. The only way to get rid of it is to keep digging it out. It’s tedious but herbicides and homemade weed killers are both things this plant escapes most of the time. So why add the chemicals?

Another weed which drives me crazy in the woods in the summer here is pokeweed. It has poisonous berries, it grows many feet tall, and you have to dig it out because it has a long taproot. I was watching an episode of Gardeners’ World one time and they had a gardener who liked it in England. If I had known who they were I would’ve invited them to come to my woods and dig it up! Handling poke weed without gloves can give you a rash.

Internet photo of poke weed.

For weeds you can also do something they call solarization which is essentially you take sheets of black plastic you cut the weeds back and you put the black plastic over what you’re trying to kill and you leave it for a season. What you’re doing is blocking out sunlight and simultaneously frying the plant because it gets hot underneath the black plastic. People will also deal with weeds in areas by laying down newspaper and or sheets of cardboard and covering the top with mulch.

Back to some weeds which weren’t first considered weeds, but were introduced and became weeds. Once again, I introduce you to Bishops Weed, which was introduced as a perennial. People quickly realized it’s actually more of an invasive. The moral to the Aesop‘s fable here is research what you plant before you plant it. Like Lemon Balm. After the first garden I planted that in I will never plant it other than in a pot. It makes mint look like a rank amateur for spreading!

Common dandelions. Something people love to hate them in their lawn, but the bees love them and it’s an early source of food. Again, when I want get rid of them I dig them out. But mostly we get to coexist and they get cut back when the lawn is mowed. I am sure that this drives the serious lawn guys on either side of us crazy to look at our lawn. And someone way down the road from us treats their lawn via a chemical spraying lawn service. I would never use a service like that because many dogs are allergic to what is applied to the lawn.

Yes my lawn is full of dandelions. It also has wild violets and come in the fall I’m going to plant bunches of crocuses I hope they will naturalize and give me early flowers before any lawns are cut.

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard a true invasive. Native to Europe, China, other parts of Asia, Scandinavia, and more I’m not sure that it was native to the US but somewhere along the line it was introduced because it’s used in traditional herbalism. It can be used as a wound antiseptic and made into a poultice and applied to the skin. Another thing with obnoxious kind of fibrous roots when you pull it out it smells exactly like garlic. The problem is it is an invasive plant, and where it grows a lot of other things don’t like to grow. However it is another truism is that you will not necessarily eradicate with herbicides and homemade weed killers. But the good news is this is a weed that is very easy to pull.

On my front walk which is brick, I often will boil a kettle of water and pour that on the weeds. I’ve discovered those little weeds growing between the cracks don’t like boiling water and it makes it easy to get them out.

I have fairly extensive gardens and for the most part I dig and pull. With a lot of the true weeds and invasives in the woods because they often cohabitate with things like poison ivy and poison oak and poison sumac, I occasionally use a team of people that come out from Umar Mycka , who in the Philadelphia region is the poison ivy horticulturalist, and they dig and pull the weeds and the invasive species, and remove everything from the property so no seeds spread.

People are lazy they want a quick fix when it comes to weeds, and gardening like anything else takes routine and work. I understand people love to find homemade weed killer recipes and share how to make them, but I have to ask why? Because if you are a gardener and if you care about your environment and the critters who cohabitate with you in your garden, you would think twice before doing any of this.

A lot of the things that go into creating a homemade weed killer will not only kill everything around what you’re trying to kill, it also harms wildlife and it can harm humans if kids or adults or visitors come in contact with whatever it is you’ve sprayed. It can hurt your pets, so that adds domestic animals. And why is that? Because most homemade weed remedies contain excess amounts of salt or vinegar, both of which are caustic in this use. People also use disgusting concoctions made with other caustic things like Listerine.

I forget what this weed is called but it has to be dug out because it has a long taproot.

If you hire people to help you, make sure they understand completely what your objectives are and specifically what you want removed. A few years ago there was a woman who had a gardener’s helper business in my area. I actually helped her start her business and referred her to many people. Except when I went to use her myself she had all these homemade concoctions that I did not want used in my garden and was specific about that. The other problem was, she didn’t know her plants enough to know that a white currant bush (for example) is not a weed. So sadly she ended up costing me money, not helping.

Ideally, it would be nice if I had someone else in the house to help me with weeding. But my husband doesn’t have a lot of free time, and has to handle bigger outside projects and the lawn. And the former child now young adult living with us is allergic to manual labor. Our son should help, but somehow he always manages not to have time to help. I have almost given up asking. Almost.

Now I learned from my Pennsylvania German grandmother that tobacco juice and soapy water mixed together are great for aphids. That’s not going to hurt you, your garden, and it’s not particularly caustic. But no one in my house smokes, so there are no dead cigarette butts to soak to make tobacco water with. In a pinch if you used that, you could do something like buy a cheap cigar at a convenience store and take the tobacco out of the wrapper and add to soapy water and just let it steep a day or so. But another easy way to deal with aphids in your garden is to plant things in the allium family as in onions, garlic, chives. And milkweed because they seem very attracted to milkweed and they leave my other plants alone. And if you blast aphids with a hose, they are softbodied insects and it gets rid of a lot of them just with a hose.


I also know a lot of people will use homemade remedies for other diseases and pests on roses. I have watched people fry their rosebushes by doing baking soda concoctions with soap and spraying them on the roses in the heat of the day. I will admit that I do use a three in one systemic by Bayer on my roses. I will also use a similar systemic on ornamental trees and shrubs. They are granules I dig into the ground.

I am judicious with any chemicals that go in around or on my garden. And I just don’t use herbicides. And that is what a weed killer is.

Maybe I’ve gone on far too long with this post for some people. But I figured I was just going to put my point of view out there.

No one likes weeding. I hate weeding. Sometimes the weeding does not get done. Sometimes it does. I just try to do a little bit every day.

Happy gardening!

Dandelions and wild violets and even a plantain.

One comment

  1. Thanks for the tip about the company that removes invasive vines and weeds. We, too, are organic gardeners and do not use herbicides. Our lawn (we are surrounded by woodland) looks exactly like your last picture with the dandelions and wild violets. The blue and yellow dominate the lawn in the spring, and I am fine with that.


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