Goodbye Spring, Hello Summer!

Spring is a beautiful time of year and we were fortunate that our 2018 spring was enjoyable with enough rain to turn everything lush and green. Today summer has officially arrived bringing heat and humidity and the first flush of WEEDS. All kinds of tiny weeds have sprouted in lawns and in borders around this neighborhood.

I’m not crazy about the idea of dousing the property with chemicals so I’m laboring a little each day to pull them out before they form seed heads. I find the single best way to rid oneself of weeds is the good old-fashioned pull-them-out-by-hand when the ground is moist and the plants are young. That’s when it’s easy to pull the entire weed up because if you don’t get the root out, it’s probably going to grow back. I simply grab a weed close to the ground and slowly pull straight up. If the ground is dry, I find the second best way to remove weeds is with a triangular blade hoe. You’ll find no Roundup used around my yard!

Our association lays down mulch in our neighborhood and those are the weeds I tackle first.  A few inches of compost/mulch mix makes it easier to pull them out, roots and all…. even the young pokeweed below that will develop a huge taproot that will go deep and spread horizontally later in the summer.

Pokeweed 2018

 Root System on Young Pokeweed

Chickweed, Hairy Bittercrest, Dandelion, Wood Sorrel, Plantains, Purslane, Pokeberry, Prostrate Spurge, Crabgrass and my worst gardening enemy… Creeping Charlie (in the neighbor’s yard), are all waiting to grow and develop a good root system and simply take over… but, sorry, not on my watch!

wood sorrel 2018

Young Wood Sorrel

Plantain 2018

Young Plantain

Prostrate Spurge

Young Prostrate Spurge

New Shoots of Creeping Charlie

New shoots of Creeping Charlie creeping ever closer to my gardens!

No matter how dreaded a job, we must accept that weeds are part of gardening and be prepared to do battle but never win the war. No matter how many you pull out, nature is constantly reseeding them for you.



Warm Season Weeds

Last weekend on the hottest day of our summer so far, 8 neighbors came together to clean and weed a border for a resident who needed a little help. Temperatures hovered in the 90’s under a brutal sun, but with steady work the job wrapped up in just 2 hours.

Weeds and BrushThis neighbor’s lawn borders our property so I took a keen interest in what was growing so close to me.  Some of the weeds that we removed are ones that I really love to hate. We saw quite a variety, but here are a few of the worst offenders:

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana): The plants were small but plentiful. If not pulled out as a small plant, this pest can mature to 8′ and will have a massive taproot that is next to impossible to remove. Worse than that, the weed is poisonous. Songbirds are not affected by pharmacopeia in the berries, however the entire plant, berries, root, leaves, and stems are toxic to humans and animals. Get it out early!

Yellow Woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta): Deep taproots make this weed difficult to pull out intact. I find it easiest to hold the stem as close to the soil as possible and pull very slowly to remove the taproot. Otherwise the root snaps.  It’s a pretty little weed with a dainty yellow bloom, but oh so prolific. For every one I pull, it seems 10 take its place! Often a nursery plant will have the weed or weed seeds in the pot and it will be introduced into a landscape when planted. I am forever weeding them from pots at work.

WoodsorrelSpurge (Euphorbia maculata and Euphorbia supine): These weeds thickly covered the bare spots in the area and were spreading to the lawn. Both prostrate and spotted spurge will form a dense mat over an area. Like all spurges in this huge family, the plant leaks a milky latex than can irritate the skin….just like poinsettia, another spurge. These weeds survive the lawn mower since they grow very low to the ground.

Poison Ivy (Rhus radicans): Here is a plant that loves the suburbs. It thrives on the edge of woods, ditches as real estate development is poison ivy’s best friend. Although we found several plants, they were all small. We decided to spray them with herbicide rather than pull the vine from the ground.

poison ivyNutsedge: When young, these small plants can be mistaken for grass. One ID is the v-shaped crease down the center of the blade. I did not see a lot of this weed on cleanup day in New Hampshire, but, boy, was it a nuisance in my Virginia gardens! We broke the tubers off when we pulled the weeds thus assuring the rest of the tubers and rhizomes will reemerge.

nutsedgeRed Sorrel (Rumex acetosella): This is another weed that will spread in barren areas. The roots are shallow so it’s easy to pull. Sometimes you pull one weed and three more come with it as new plants can grow from one plant’s creeping horizontal roots.

IMG_7293Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea): My worst nightmare is slowly creeping toward our property! It is a dreaded weed in the mint family. You can wage war on this perennial but you will only win some battles. We pulled it up in great long strands but we knew that every rooted node will return as a new plant. Herbicides are not very effective. Landscapers either solarize it or are known to use glyphosate to kill everything, then reseed grass. It’s that tough…

Creeping CharlieThere were lots of other weeds like dandelion and plantain and crabgrass. I think we might have a couple more workdays here….

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

You Can Teach an Old Dog!

I grew up near fields of wildflowers, aka weeds, where siblings and friends played through endless summers. I ran through fields, made forts in tall grasses, played hide & seek, made dandelion chains to adorn our heads, necks and wrists, held buttercups under each others chins to see if we liked butter, made small projectiles from seed heads while chanting, “Mama had a baby and her head popped off,” picked burrs from my socks, blew dandelion seeds, got stung by nettles, and gathered flowers to take home that wilted before I reached the front door.

It was an on-site education and I thought I knew my weeds…but a recent educational email from Gloucester Master Gardeners set me straight on one weed.  I referred to a common pink-purple flowered weed as Henbit (lamium amplexicaule), when in fact there were two similar looking weeds that grow in the same areas. The other is Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum). I lumped the two together as all Henbit.  Now, looking at them together before the plants fully flower, I can clearly see the difference.  Thank you, Ellis Squires!

Purple Dead Nettle


The email from Ellis Squires follows:

“I am sure you have noticed the empty farm fields carpeted with purple this time of year.  To discover the cause, you may have to get down on your knees.  There are two plants responsible for these blazes of glory, both are of the same genus in the mint family, have opposite leaves, square stems and lipped flowers.


The first is called Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule and is a low-growing annual, growing to 4 to 10 inches tall, with hairy stems. The upper leaves are semicircular, clasping (which is what amplexus means) and opposite with a lobed margin. The pink to purple flowers are in whorls in the axils of the upper leaves. The buds are like little beads of royal purple. It is one of the earliest flowers to bloom and is an important nectar and pollen plant for bees and honeybees.  It is widely naturalized in eastern North America, where it may be considered to be an invasive weed.

The second species, which will take a dicerning eye to differentiate, is Purple Dead Nettle, Lamium purpureum, which is also native to Europe and Asia.  It grows to 3 to 10 inches in height. The leaves are finely haired, are green at the bottom of the stem, and purplish at the top. The short petiole on the pointed leaves is one way to tell it from unstalked leaves of Henbit.

Purple Dead Nettle

The bright red-purple flowers have a top hood-like petal, two lower lip petal lobes and minute fang-like lobes between. Bees also find this plant attractive for it is often the only nectar source available in the early spring.

Although it has the name nettle, and may look a little like a nettle, it is not related and does not contain the stinging hairs of the true nettle, and why it gets the name ‘dead’ nettle. The tops of young plants are edible, and can be used in salads or a stirfry, but don’t over-do it as the flavor may be a bit of an acquired taste.”

–Ellis Squires   (The Virginia Master Naturalist Program is a statewide corps of volunteers providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities. Interested Virginians become Master Naturalists through training and volunteer service.)

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

Indestructable Creeping Charlie you live in a Rocky Mountain State, you probably have seen a certain evergreen ground perennial running in all directions through your grass this summer.  Best known as Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), but sometimes called Ground Ivy, it is an aromatic member of the mint family.  It thrives in cool, moist, shady soil and the Commonwealth has provided perfect conditions for Creeping Charlie to take hold this summer.  And once it does take hold, watch out. It spreads quickly by sending out runners and putting down new roots every few inches. It also reproduces by seed and by rhizomes.

I left a pair of clippers at the edge of a new border where Charlie Clippers lost beneath Charlie for two wet weekswas prolific. They disappeared in Kudzu-like fashion in no time.  It took me two weeks to find those clippers and only with a weed trimmer did they reappear.

Recently I walked with a friend through her yard while she pointed to the bane of her existence. Crowding out almost half of her shady yard of new grass was Creeping Charlie.  As we walked, she shared her tales of struggle against it. Her story is not unique.  I have Creeping Charlieseen folks fight for years to control Charlie.  Often gardeners give up the war and manage to just keep it somewhat tamed.  Of course, if you happen to rid your property of it, that doesn’t mean the neighbors won’t share their healthy Creeping Charlie.

Landscapers consider the invasive plant a weed and as a last resort will use a glyphosate-based herbicide like Roundup to kill everything, then begin again with grass seed or sod. Homeowners often use a post-emergent broadleaf herbicide twice in the fall and twice again in the spring for several years to have any success.  Others, like me, simply weed it by hand knowing that the fix is temporary.

According to Peterson’s Field Guide, Edible Wild Plants, the plant has culinary uses.  It makes a robust tea, and herbalists around the world hail the perennial for its medicinal benefits.  However, common sense tells us to educate ourselves before ingesting the plant or using it for medical purposes.

Whether you like Creeping Charlie or not, swift success in controlling it is highly unlikely.  Either prepare your battle plan or think of Charlie as a lovely evergreen ground cover.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


Know Your Chickweed

There are a number of weeds that germinate in the fall, both grasses and broadleaf.  They are called winter annuals because they can germinate in October and November, then over-winter as small plants until warmer weather in March triggers growth, followed by flowers, then seeds.  By summer the plants often die back October chickweed in Ann's gardenor go fibrous.

One of these winter annual broadleaf weeds is common chickweed, Stellaria media, sometimes called starweed or tongue grass.  It is a low-growing, succulent plant that can form large mats over the ground in the spring.  The branched stems, with rows of hairs, trail along the ground and can root at each of the swollen nodes.  The oval, paired leaves are cool and smooth to the touch and the showy deeply cut white spring flowers can be solitary or clustered at the tips of the stems.  Tiny flat seeds are formed in oval, one-celled capsules and can germinate at just above 32 degrees F.  Seedlings can survive the severest frost and can stay green under snow.

A native to Europe, the leaves, stems and flowers have long been used as herbal folk medicine for skin conditions, however contact dermatitis may develop in those with allergies so caution is indicated.  Records show it was sold by street vendors in Victorian London as food for pet birds and it is consumed by many animals including wild birds, sheep, rabbits, horses, cows, geese, pigs and, of course, chickens, thus the name ‘chickweed.’

As a plant it can serve a purpose, but for most gardeners and farmers, it is a weed. The battle with chickweed can never be won in North America but fortunately it’s not a hard fought battle for me. One interesting fact about chickweed is that it is found growing in rich, moist, fertile soils and does not tolerate poor soil or dry soil or hot sunny spots.  So sadly, chickweed is quite well behaved in my yard, which means my soil needs work.

chickweed leavesTo weed by hand, I simply pull the tender succulent in the cool spring while still in flower and before it sets its seeds.  The roots are very fragile and quite shallow and compact and the plant pulls up easily. If you use chemicals, pre-emergents are the best way to control these weeds.  Use them now before you see the weeds as they work on the germinating seeds.  Post-emergent herbicides for broadleaf weeds are not as effective in the fall since winter annuals are beginning their dormant stage.  Use these in the spring when weeds are actively growing.

Although it can be a pest in our gardens, it’s nice to think of weeds as part of the tapestry of nature.  They can make life interesting and it’s worth knowing a bit about them before we yank them from the ground.

Do you know your Creeping Charlie?  Click here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester