Monday, April 29, 2024

Persistence Furthers With Garlic Mustard

Another weed that is risky to let get established in your yard is garlic mustard. The plant shoots up 1-3 feet high during its second year, and is easy to spot right now with its cluster of little white flowers.  The flowers look decent enough, but a laissez faire approach will lead to this weed taking over, altering soil chemistry and crowding out other flowers. The garlicky smelling leaves are edible, especially when young, but you'll never eat enough to control it. 

The strategy for combatting aggressive plants in the garden is different for each species. Garlic mustard is a biennial, meaning it gathers energy the first year, then blooms and dies the second year. If you leave it while it's flowering, chances are you'll forget to pull it later, after it has blended back into the green of the garden. By the time the plant dies and turns brown later in the summer, marring your garden with its skeletal remains, the seeds will have matured and dispersed, creating an even bigger problem next year. 

But foil its attempt to make and spread new seed, and the soil will eventually run out of seed to make new plants. Best to pull now, while in bloom, though it can be pulled any time before the seeds mature. "Grab low and pull slow" is a good motto for getting as much of the root as possible. Don't put the pulled plants in your compost pile. Even when pulled while young, there's still a chance that the flowers will mature into viable seed. 

To avoid having to stuff the pulled plants in trash bags to send to the landfill, what we've done at Herrontown Woods is pull every last one we can find, then pile them in an out of the way spot, so that any seeds that mature on the pulled plants and sprout the next year will be easy to find and pull. Pulling gets easier each year, until what once took hours now takes but a few minutes. 

All problems should yield so nicely to persistence. 

Related posts: 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Bringing the Garden Inside

This photo offers a great illustration of a time when it was common for homeowners to have an intimate knowledge and daily interactions with their yards. I grew up with such gardens just outside the door, but many kids grow up now with yards meant only to flatter the house, with sterile lawn, rounded shrubs, and tinted mulch--just one more stop for a landscape crew. Progress back in the 1950s and '60s promised more leisure, but instead, people are busier, and discouraged from gardening by predacious deer and fear of ticks. But I still encounter gardens that are clearly loved and cared for, and serve as expressions of the owner's personality in the choice of plants and the degree of order.

What didn't register for me until more recently is how much of a garden is meant to be brought indoors. Peonies, for instance, flop over so easily in a rain. This was puzzling to me, but makes much more sense when viewed primarily as fragrant flowers best adapted for a vase. A friend described to me how she grew up drinking tea made of sweet woodruff from the garden. It tasted best if harvested before it flowered, and so that distinctive flavor became bonded for her with early spring. 
The photo was one of those that makes the rounds on facebook, and included an attribution and appealing sentiment, below. One bond I feel with plants is that, no matter how old they get, they still produce new growth each year. They are then, the physical representation of our inner selves, which continue to grow after our physical dimensions have reached their limit. Like the gardener in the photo, we as humans have brought the plant world's eternal youth inside. 
"I asked an elderly woman once what it was like to be old and to know that the majority of her life was now behind her.

She told me that she has been the same age her entire life. She said the voice inside of her head had never aged. She has always just been the same girl. Her mother's daughter. She had always wondered when she would grow up and be an old woman.

She said she watched her body age and her faculties dull but the person she is inside never got tired. She never aged. She never changed.

Remember, our spirits are eternal. Our souls are forever. The next time you encounter an elderly person, look at them and know they are still a child, just as you are still a child and children will always need love, attention and purpose."

~ Author Unknown
illustration by Tasha Tudor

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Lawn Blotch 2024

Maybe people have another name for it, but every April there is a condition of some lawns that catches the eye. I call it "lawn blotch," which develops early in spring when the grass has yet to grow but other plants have.

Those other plants that spring forth here and there in a lawn might be Star of Bethlehem, which will later have pretty white flowers but spreads underground, popping up all over the place in your yard. 

Or they might be the pretty but terribly invasive lesser celandine,  which will become a nuisance for you, your neighbors, and your local nature preserve if you don't spray it or dig it up.

Or they could be a weedy allium that I call wild garlic. 

None of these plant species are native. Lesser celandine is poisonous. 

Lawn blotch has at least one positive, though. I've frequently seen the wild garlic being gratefully harvested by people of Asian heritage, to use in cooking like chives or onions. 

Lawn blotch as a phenomenon quickly passes, as the weather warms and the grass begins to grow, and lawn mowers once again impose a vertical conformity on the suburban landscape.

As an adendum, below is a fun quote from a post I wrote about lawn blotch eleven years ago. Though the climate has been changing considerably, lawn blotch still coincides with the Masters golf tournament: 

"As master golfers stride the perfectly groomed grounds of Augusta National this weekend, showing their mastery over a landscape that's kept in a perpetual state of arrested development, let us glance out the window for a moment at the less applauded realities of the suburban lawn. In the Masters tournament, only the hazards--the trees and shrubs--are allowed to reach maturity. For the golfer, any encounter with interesting plants is a sign of trouble. And in the yard, the main threat to calm conformity is the plant that seeks to lead a full life, by flowering and maturing its seed. (Full disclosure: I lettered in golf in high school, spent part of a summer mowing fairways, and probably developed a keen eye for plants while searching for lost balls in the nearby corn fields and the very rough rough of our neighborhood's rough-hewn golf course.)"

Friday, April 05, 2024

Lesser Celandine Spreading Into Local Parks

Poisonous to wildlife, crowding out other plants, be they native wildflowers or turfgrass, lesser celandine spreads across sunny lawns and shady forests alike, forming dense, exclusionary mats that can extend far into the distance. 

I've written many posts about this highly invasive plant, and how it can be controlled with targeted, minimalist use of herbicide if one catches it early in one's yard or in a local park or preserve. Invasions start with one isolated plant like this, which can be easily sprayed with systemic herbicide without damaging nearby vegetation. (Or dug up and thrown in the trash, not the compost.) Of course, one plant looks harmless enough, but its rapid spread will change your view from "Gee, that's pretty" to "Help!!"

Incredibly, this spring I happened upon a homeowner in our neighborhood who actively sells lesser celandine and other plants she digs from her garden, apparently via facebook marketplace. Her garden is infested with the plant, and so this noxious weed will hitchhike in the soil of any garden flower she sells. Though it has a pretty flower, it's rapid spread will cause gardeners to lose control of their gardens, and to then serve as vectors for the plant's additional spread to neighboring lands. I asked the woman about the ethics of selling and intentionally spreading such an invasive species, and she refused to even discuss it. She blamed her unreceptivity on someone who had confronted her about it in an unfriendly manner. I asked "What if a nice person were to raise the issue with you?" But she still refused any discussion.

I may be having more success with Princeton parks. This spring, a friend, Mimi, was concerned about the status of the London plane trees along the Scott and Hella McVay Poetry Trail in Greenway Meadows, and asked me to take a look. The trees definitely need some attention, given all the invasive shrubs growing beneath them, but I also noticed that lesser celandine is beginning to spread through the park's meadow and lawn. 

Here's that classic "first plant" which would ultimately carpet the whole meadow with its poisonous foliage if not treated. 

And here's an early infestation in the lawn that extends down to the ballfields and into the land surrounding the DR Greenway Johnson Center.

I urged the town to take action, and it appears they will. 

This spring has not been ideal for spraying lesser celandine. Days have remained cool, which I personally like, but it's best for the temperature to reach 50 degrees for effective treatment. Of course, having just written that, I come upon a source that says at least 40 degrees. 

Glyphosate--much vilified for its overuse in agriculture--is still the most dependable systemic herbicide to use. If close to wetlands, a wetland-safe formulation (not Roundup) can be used, though it takes some sleuthing on the internet to find it. For foliage, a 2% solution is good, but some use 4%. 

I've heard that some land managers use an herbicide called Milestone, which may be a useful alternative, particularly because it doesn't harm surrounding grasses. 

If you read online about lesser celandine, you'll sometimes see claims that it must be sprayed very early in spring, before it flowers. Early spraying in helpful, but people should not be deterred from spraying later in spring as well. You'll also see claims that lesser celandine might be mistaken for the native marsh marigold. But marsh marigold is extremely rare. In all my explorations of Princeton's open space, the only marsh marigolds I've seen are the few that I have planted. 

Lesser celandine reminds us that we are all connected. What one person allows to grow in the yard can impact neighbors and nearby natural areas. The more a neighborhood becomes infested, the more likely it will spread to your own yard, through landscapers' mowers or on the hooves of deer. Thus, one person's problem quickly becomes other people's problem. It's important to be vigilant.