I enjoy gardening because I get satisfaction in watching things grow after I plant it. However, quite often the weeds grow much faster and thicker than my desired plants. In my garden, some common weeds include: 1) horse tail, 2) chickweed, 3) fireweed, 4) shepherds purse, and 5) pineapple weed.
This blog shares research and some management tips associated with common weeds found in my Anchorage garden (Southcentral Alaska). This blog covers the common name, botanical name, life cycle description, and recommended practices for attempting to control the weed in your garden. As you will see from the control methods for these weeds, not all weeds are the same.
Types of herbicides are not recommended in this blog. For information on specific herbicides gardeners should use resources like the Weed Management Handbook, Oregon State University.
Horsetail (equisetum) is an ancient plant. There are many species with a variety of common names like scouringrush, meadow horsetail (equisetum pretense) and wood horsetail (equisetum sylvaticum).
The plant has two parts: a perennial rhizome and an annual areal shoot. The rhizome spreads laterally underground and lives multiple years. The areal shoot contains a strobilus that spreads millions of spores via air transport if the plant is allowed to mature. (1)
Managing equisetum is challenging because the rhizome breaks when you attempt to pull the plants by hand. The small pieces can live in the ground for years.
The best way I have found to control equisetum is to cut them low using a string trimmer as soon as the plants come up. They definitely need to be trimmed before the strobili forms on top of the plants. Trimming also eliminates sunlight to the plant and delays propagation of rhizomes.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is an annual plant. Some people eat it on salads, but I personally don’t want it in my garden. For the Lower 48, chickweed sprouts and grows in cool weather or early spring. In Alaska, chickweed is prosperous all summer long.
To control chickweed, websites discuss three different options: pre-emergent herbicide before the seeds germinate, foliage herbicides while growing, and mechanical weeding by hand.
The pre-emergent herbicide should be applied in the fall because the seeds germinate in cold weather. Post-emergent herbicides can be used after the plant is sprouted and growing. For Alaska, this will be May through August. Care must be taken to only spray the chickweed, or other plants may be killed with by-spray. (2)
Fireweed (Epilobium chamerion angustifolium) is a perennial plant common in Alaska. Often one of the first plants growing after ground disturbance or wild fire. The plant spreads by rhizomes (spreading roots) or floating seed pods distributed through the wind. The best way to control fireweed is to pull the weeds with as much root as possible; the roots are fairly strong and runners come up easily. They can also be cut down before reaching maturity and spreading seeds. The plant can also be managed with a post-emergent herbicide. (Reference 3), (Image 4)
Shepherds purse (Capsella bursa-pastoring) is an annual plant common in colder climates. It reproduces by seed. Each seed pod will contain about 20 seeds, and a single plant will produce about 38,000 seeds. The seeds germinate in the fall. The best control for shepherd’s purse is a pre-emergent herbicide used in the fall before freeze up. (Reference 5), (Image and reference 6)
Pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioide) is an annual plant. It reproduces by seed and is very common in areas with disturbed ground. When crushed, the leaves and flowers smell like sweet pineapple. The plant thrives in thin rocky soil; it can live in high traffic areas like sidewalks or roadsides. The plant blooms from June to July, and the seeds ripen from July to August.
Complete control of pineapple weed is difficult. The root system is shallow, so pulling is an option. Mowing doesn’t slow the plant a bit. Systematic herbicides might be effective. (Image 7), (Reference 8 and 9)
In summary, the best way to control weeds is to understand the plant and its life cycle. I started this research thinking that one of my spreading plants was a weed; however, after using identification software I now believe this plant is foxglove. Foxglove is beautiful, but it is classified as an invasive plant in Southeast Alaska (11). What is obvious from the weed control methods mentioned above is that not all weeds are the same. Some weeds need to be managed with pre-emergent herbicides, some with post emergent herbicides, some weeds need to be mechanically pulled, and some need to be cut before they go to seed. The first step to manage your weeds is to identify the plant, understand its life cycle, do some research, and determine the best plan for your garden.
If tomorrow comes — will weeds rule the day? | Sow There!
We’re years deep into a drought, with another dry year predicted, but no one seems to have sent the news to the weeds. Even when I visited the coast last month, the fog felt more like smoke from dry ice than the wet, sticky stuff that curls your hair or sinks into your socks.
From my previous estimation, we received only a few drops of rain in the past two months, which only served to make my car dirty. The weeds grew and prospered from mere morning dew. I remembered morning dew only on those cold, cold mornings when I needed my Dollar Store squeegee to scrape ice from the windshield. Apparently weeds are like mosquitoes. They only need a few tablespoons of moisture to multiply.
Humans are muddling through a lot of big problems these days, and I’m trying my best to stay optimistic. Some of this has to do with my job as a group leader for 19 teachers who are visiting from foreign countries. If my morale drops precipitously, and I let it show, I’m setting a bad example.
It’s easy to look on the brighter side when there are places to go and things to distract your mind. Over the past many weeks we’ve taken magical trips around Northern California, including the Capitol, the coast and across several local hillsides.
The weeds in my own yard might be a source of disdain, but from a distance any plant of varying color is beautiful.
Our group’s coach bus passed rolling hills likely covered in cudweed, hairy fleabane and Bermuda grass. From a distance and at 60 mph, green is green. Mix in some wild mustard (which I would yank if I spotted in my yard), you have an image ready for Instagram.
We enjoyed invasive periwinkle in lower Bidwell Park and an unknown number of plants in upper park that would never have survived along my fence line.
In an odd way, I enjoy pulling weeds. With all the things going wrong with the world, I can spend a little spare time and know I have made an impact.
Year after year, I have targeted the plants that I know to hate.
Velcro weed, AKA catchweed, for example, is now only rarely spotted in my yard. The three-cornered leek shows its stems so seldom, I almost miss it.
And just when I think I am master of my surroundings, something new decides to become a major nuisance. This year it’s chickweed, which I believe has adapted to my lazy habits and now hides just below the leaves of the mass of California poppies.
This year I’ve moved on to eradicate henbit, which also looks lovely if scattered in giant drifts across Table Mountain. The other on the target list is common groundsel which produces hairy seed pods before producing any measurable color.
If the world keeps turning the way it has lately, someday, we may be happy to have weeds — common vetch, wild sweet pea or three-cornered leek — rather than no color at all. For now, I’ll keep plucking.