Late Summer Weeds I Love to Hate

I am not one of those people who can sustain the care of a garden on a regular basis. Better gardeners venture out regularly to assess garden conditions. Instead I seem to weed in less effective spurts. And my maintenance techniques are not for the faint of heart. I wait until I am triggered by the arrival of guests or I know I have two to three days in a row at home or the lure of a cooler day coaxes me outdoors away from other duties.  On those days I weed like a perspiring, grimy maniac from dawn to dusk (or later) filling several wheelbarrows with debris… lots of dead stuff, spent herbage, and tons of weeds.  At the end of each day, mister gardener and even the dogs give me a wide berth.

Having just completed a major late summer overhaul of the garden, there were the familiar seasonal weeds that seemed to taunt me. As my garden flowers fade, these weeds thrive in the sun baked ground, they sprout atop the fresh mulch, and they prosper without the existence of water. One weed that gardeners encounter this time of year is spotted spurge.

Spotted spurge

Spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is a late-summer annual that forms a low, dense mat over the ground. This spurge seems to find every crack and crevice in full sun and it can grow over a foot in diameter. The lookalike spurge, prostrate spurge, roots at the nodes of the plant. Thank goodness that one isn’t a problem in these gardens!

Partridge Pea takeover!

Some gardeners welcome the Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), a native annual, to their late summer garden but I’m not one of them. Left alone, this plant reaches two feet in height and drops seed from pods in the fall. It does have a lovely yellow bloom that insects seem to adore…. even the red velvet ant, I read somewhere. I respect this plant but I can hardly give it an inch because it is so prolific. It prefers full sun but thrives in the shady area of my new secret garden where, alas, the soil is poor.

Common Woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta)

One last plague in the garden path is common yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta), a clover-like plant that hides in my steppable groundcover along the flagstone in full sun or shade. For effective weeding I slowly work my way along the flagstone, pulling the plant gently out of the sandy foundation where succulents, thymes and miniature grasses fill in the gaps between stones. Annoying as it is, I remember as a child chewing on the sour leaves so this weed, I don’t mind so much.

Following my Herculean garden undertaking on Saturday, I have retired from weeding duties until the next time.  The garden looks fine from the windows while I’m vacuuming. It looks inspirational from the deck as I fill the hummingbird feeders. The tall hosta blooms swaying in the breezes are thrilling from the porch as sip my lemonade. Sigh.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

My Big, Fat Ugly Weed

It began slowly.  I saw a bit here and there in the lawn after Hurricane Isabel but had no idea what it was. It looked fairly benign, just small plants growing beneath the grass. I’d easily pull one out, ignore 4 more, paint a tiny amount of weed killer on a small patch, but for the most part, I simply ignored it. Big mistake. After our wet winter this year, we know we have a problem with this difficult to control broadleaf lawn plague named Virginia buttonweed (Diodia virginiana L.).

This spring I armed myself with information about buttonweed and I realize how monstrous my troubles could be. This is a very aggressive weed that forms dense mats in the lawn. Deep-rooted, this perennial can return each spring from its root system and it can spread by seeds and from any living portion of the plant. One remarkable characteristic of this weed is that it has self-pollinating flowers both above and below the soil. The tiny, star-shaped, 4-petaled white flowers can help identify the plant in the grass.  Interestingly, another identifying feature is a mottled mosaic yellow-green leaf in some buttonweed due to a virus.

Virginia Tech calls this weed “a very troublesome weed of lawns and turfgrass throughout the southeastern United States.” All I know is it likes moisture (we had plenty this winter) and it successfully adapts to mowing. Pulling it up is a temporary solution since root fragments will regenerate. I read that proper management of turf is a good preventative. Too late for that. Recommended is repeated applications of a postemergence herbicide every 4 – 6 weeks but I hesitate.

It is a native.   It is a survivor.   On some level I can’t help but admire it and wonder how it would look, dark green and mottled mosaic yellow-green, instead of grass.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester