So, have you been out weeding your gardens this week? I beat you, dollars to donuts that most of us reading this column have at one time or another have had our share of sore backs, hands that are full of little thistles or wondered why we are pulling at a plant that is just as happy to be left alone. I received an email this week from a person who was weeding and came across a thistle that he just really wanted to pull. From what I could guess is that thistle, at least a portion, wound up on the ground or in the trash somewhere. Frankly, I'm in the same belief, let's get that weed out of here and not worry about the consequences.
The problem is that this is a terrible idea. I have been in this business for almost 20 years plus. Yeah, I know. Time does fly. When I took my first class at Ohio State University Agricultural and Technical Institute of perennials with Professor Larry Steward, he taught us about a truly difficult weed called lythrum salicaria, which is purple loosestrife. We learned that purple loosestrife is a part of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services of the USDA List or APHIS/USDA. This means that this plant is considered a noxious weed by law and you are not allowed as a registered nursery to grow this plant. As a matter of fact, Prof Steward told us that if we were to go to Huron, when the loosestrife was in bloom you would see the entire river turn purple. I believe that you can still take that trip and see this noxious weed turn the river purple. On the surface, you may think that may not be so bad. The problem is that this European weed has displaced many locals and destroyed the native plants from living along the Huron River. What I'm getting at is that weeds can be a very serious problem for all of us.
Thistle, goutweed, poison ivy, English ivy, hogweed and bindweed are all really bad weeds that have dramatic solutions to manage. Two or three years ago, I came across a wonderful lady who had a terrible infestation of thistle in her beds. She was told years prior to my meeting her that the only way that she would never get rid of this weed was to remove all the soil in the beds and get rid of the soil. This is a correct solution with two of these plants, both the thistle and goutweed. They are such bullies that there is no quarter given by either of these plants. For my friends who don't have problems with chemicals, in the long run, you still won't kill these weeds. The roots on these plants are amazing. As you try to remove most of these plants from the soil you will find that the roots will continue on for quite a bit of time as you pull them out. I started pulling one of these thistles out and it stretched for more than 10 feet and five other plants were attached to the same root. This means that they are rhizomatic. If you are familiar with these plants, as you pull them out if you don't get all of the root you will find at least twice as many plants next year or even more. I truly, physically attacked this bed filled with thistle and was careful to the point I felt I got all of the roots. The weeding of this bed took three times longer than normal, but by being careful you should be able to remove the weeds, you would think. This thistle bed was beyond management by weeding, no matter how careful the person weeding was. There is still the potential that if you were to hit that same bed twice a month for two or three years or more you may control the weed.
Realistically, to truly solve the problem you will have to excavate the beds entirely, and remove the soil. I have seen thistle growing up through the opening where you would have planted the shrubs and perennials you want to grow. So, the problem is that landscape fabric does not work at least for these weeds. One option with this is to place a solid fabric over the entire bed and let it remain unplanted for at least two years.
This will be the first part in this important column. Hope you have a good stroll through your garden this week and if you see any challenges let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I shall do the best I can to help.
Eric Larson, a Jeromesville-based landscape designer, writes the weekly A Stroll Through The Garden column.