Tag: weeds

The Right Plant for the Right Place

This post isn’t meant to get in to the ethics or morals (or lack thereof) of big-box stores. It’s just an observation from a recent perusal of my local Wal-Mart’s Garden Center, and a caution to new (and experienced) gardeners.

We were nearly out of toothpaste and sunscreen, so yesterday I decided to run to Wal-Mart to pick them up. As I got out of the car I noticed the big outdoor section of the Garden Center, and as I’ve been busy dreaming up the landscape for our soon-to-be new home, I decided I’d walk through for a bit of inspiration.

On the second table of plants I looked at, (the first held some saddish looking roses, so I didn’t spend much time there) I found three that caught my eye. Not because they were flowering and beautiful (though one did have flowers), but because they seemed rather out of place.

The first was heather (Erica vulgaris). A small, kind of scrubby looking plant, but touted to be a great plant for tough sites with cute little flowers in the spring. That sounds all well and good, until you turn the label over and see this:

heather label

Notice that second bullet point? “I prefer acidic, fertile but well-drained soil…” Utah known to have alkaline soils; the opposite of acidic. Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t successfully grow Heather here, but it would definitely take more work than is implied on the label.

The next was an azalea (Azalea sp). Beautiful plants, but not something I think of when I think of Utah landscapes. It fits better in Seattle, or a similar environment. The Azalea label was very similar to the Heather:

azalea label

See that second bullet point again? “I do best in slightly acidic, organic-rich soil…” Once again, not impossible, but one that could definitely be a struggle.

As I looked up from the azalea, I noticed some yellow pea-shaped flowers, and I thought to myself, “No. That can’t be. Could it?”  I came around to the other side of the table, and unfortunately it was what I thought it was (or at least very close): a broom. The reason for my surprise? Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) was recently included on the Utah Noxious Weed List. Now, this particular “Flowering Broom” is Cytisus x praecox.

flowering broom flowering broom label

That x indicates that it is a hybrid, which gave me hope that maybe this particular broom wouldn’t have the potential to spread into unwanted areas. I had that hope until I was reading a description of it on the Monrovia website where it states that one of its attributes is that “it fits into wild landscapes where it naturalizes”. If it naturalizes – reseeds or otherwise propagates itself to spread – in your yard, it is also likely to naturalize outside of it. Not a problem if you live in a dense urban environment, but very much a problem if you live near the foothills of Utah’s mountains. Or if you live in many other areas of the western United States – Scotch broom is also on the noxious weed lists for Idaho, Washington, California, Oregon, and Hawaii.

Besides the questionable choice of selling a plant that is closely related to a noxious weed, I think that nothing so quickly quashes the enthusiasm of a new gardener as the disappointment of a failed planting. Obviously I suggest that people know and understand what hardiness zone they garden in, and that they should get a soil test to see whether they have an acidic (low pH) or alkaline (high pH) soil. But this is also another lesson in reading labels: just because it is being sold in your town doesn’t make it the right plant for the right place.

Weed ID Books: A Review

In honor of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, my next plant id book review will focus on weed identification. An obviously important part of becoming more “weed aware” is to know the names of the weeds you are looking at. Once you know the name of the weed then you can start figuring out what to do about it.

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National Invasive Species Awareness Week

Did you know that this week (February 27-March 4, 2017) is National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW, for short)?

Well, now you do. Continue reading

How to control those pesky weeds

Last week, I confessed that my garden was not in the immaculate weed-free state I would hope for it to be – or that you might expect from a weed scientist.

Today let’s talk about some options for controlling them. That is, if you are in the same state as me. And if you haven’t yet subscribed to the “if you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em” (or use them as dye) theory.

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Are the weeds really that bad?

Once again, I’m using some of my grandparents’ garden space this year. Only this time instead of flowers, I’m growing: tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, cantaloupe, and a cucumber. It was only going to be a “small” garden this year. And, compared to my grandpa’s side, I guess it is.

Also, compared to my grandpa’s side, it is a disaster. I planted it, watered it, weeded it once, and then left town for work. When I got back – and finally got around to going out to check on my little plants – the weeds had completely taken over my little section.

Now, as a weed science research technician, I spend a lot of time thinking about weeds, working with weeds, and killing weeds. I appreciate them. I love to hate them. But with all of that, you’d think I could keep my garden weed-free. At work we like to joke that if you’d like to find an abundance of weeds, just go to the house of a weed scientist. Unfortunately, in this case, it is all too true.

It’s not that I don’t understand the importance of maintaining a weed free garden – believe me, I do – it’s just that I’m really good at coming up with excuses this summer for why I haven’t been out to weed.

Like: it’s hot. And, I’m pregnant. I think those two cover it.

But, I’m here to tell you to not be like me! Not only do they make a garden look messy, but here are a few more reasons for why the weeds really are that bad:

  • they compete with your crops for water, nutrients, sunlight, and space (and crops like my poor onions are pretty poor competitors) which can lead to reduced harvests
  • they can harbor diseases that can then spread to your crops
  • they can harbor insects that can then move on to chew up your crops
  • they are notoriously good seed producers – and will just keep perpetuating themselves if left unchecked

So, even though it’s hot, and even though I’m pregnant, I will get out there more often (if even only ever so slightly) to keep my vegetable garden happy and the weeds at bay.

Herbicide Labels (and why you should read them)

As an instructor of a college lab course in weed biology and management I am repeatedly astounded (and annoyed) by the lack of instruction-following exhibited by the students. Most of the experiments and activities we do in the lab are fairly simple and only demonstrative in nature, but the order of operations for each activity is generally a necessary part of seeing the correct results. The ability to read and follow instructions is therefore an important skill. Yet every year, in each class, there is at least one group who doesn’t take the time to read through the protocol before beginning and ends up having a lot of questions, or questionable results, in the end.

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Where I’ve Been

Wow. I’ve been neglecting this little space here for the last month and a half. For the handful of you who actually read this, I apologize. I haven’t forgotten it, or given it up. And I definitely haven’t run out of plant-related topics to talk about. Somehow, life – my professional weed science researcher life – has been a bit busy. Continue reading

DIY: Dyeing with Dyer’s Woad

A few weeks ago my sister texted me a photo of an announcement about a “Dyeing with Dyer’s Woad” workshop presented by a local arts group.  Obviously this was something I was definitely interested in.  Not because I dye fabric on a regular basis, or because I consider myself a really artsy person, but because it dealt with a weed.  A weed I frequently get asked about.   Continue reading