Posts Tagged ‘weeds’

If you’re shopping for a book on weeds for your library, look for one to help you easily identify the bane of our yards and gardens.   Truly useful tomes are those that offer photos or line drawings to help you in identification, plus information on how it grows and advice on how to control it.  But if the weed guide comes complete with cooking tips, the book you have enters the realm of must-have resources for gardeners.

I’ve never had a book on weeds include a chapter with recipes, but Nancy Gift included them in her new book, Good Weed, Bad Weed (St. Lynn’s press,Pittsburgh, $17.95) for a reason.  “There’s a sweet revenge in eating a weed that’s growing in the lawn where you don’t want it to be,” said the author and weed scientist, who brings a refreshing perspective to the plants we consider uninvited guests.

“People care about weeds because they hate them, but my background is that I love them,” said the assistant professor of Environmental Studies at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.  “I have my Grandmother’s love of plants, and I look at how people use them.”

 After a career spent working with farmers as an Agriculture Extension Agent with Cornell University, Gift moved to the suburbs and the saw that the style of weed control in home yards was based on the farmers’ method of spraying herbicides.  “But the rates of spray homeowners use is much higher than growers use, because farmers are minimizing how much they’re exposed to and trying to keep costs down.  Homeowners are more interested in getting every last dandelion out of their lawn.”

This intolerance for weeds is, in part, due to advertising that characterizes all uninvited plants as weeds to be eradicated, she said, which leads to intolerance for wayward seedlings.  “When people start to be aware of wanting an organic lawn, often they feel guilty, worried that the neighbors won’t like them because they have weeds in their lawn.  But there are weeds you don’t have to do anything about; they’re just plants.”   

Gift is quick to acknowledge that there are weeds that fall in the “bad weed” category, such as those which cause allergies, are painful, or poisonous.  These she agrees need control and offers tips for getting to the root of those problem plants.  “We need to understand where the weed comes from, what point in its growing cycle it’s weak, and plan our attack.  If we can figure out when to take action, we can avoid using a lot of chemicals.”

Writing a book that categorizes weeds as good, bad, or not-so-bad was challenging, said Gift, because weeds don’t behave the same in all locations.  What is unremarkable in one area of the country might be an invasive nightmare in another, so her advice on learning to live with them – like trellising bindweed to enjoy its lovely flowers – might strike some as borderline wacky. 

 But her easy to use guide lists the most common weeds and includes photos to help you identify seedlings and mature plants, along with tips for using or appreciating their beauty.  For those who want to get rid of the weeds, Gift covers a variety of ways to control them other than reaching for a bottle of chemicals.

Within each description, Gift includes her experience with the weed, and what lead her to including it in the book.  Those that didn’t make it into this guide can be found on her website.

Finishing the book with a flourish, she included a few recipes, in case you want to whip up a few dishes to serve those judgmental neighbors at the summer potluck.

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Aaahhh, summer.  The lazy days spent clipping the lawn, neatly trimming the edges and grass so that the carpet rolls along in one, smooth swath of green.  Nothing more satisfying than gathering up the tools and locking them away, turning to view the glory that is….

 …a dandelion, popping up like a summer festival tent smack in the center of the turf.  Soon it has friends and family surrounding it, while bindweed and black medic nestle in the turf, and kochia accents the edge.  Henbit

 If you’re struggling with weeds invading your lawn, before you reach for the super-nuclear chemistry, stop and consider: those weeds tell you what the grass can’t about conditions in the yard. 

Stressed lawns have groups of weeds that flourish together under similar conditions.  Some like hot, lean soil; others prefer cool shady spots.   Growing together in the yard, they’re known as indicator weeds, and they help homeowners sort out problem lawn spots.

Before yanking them out, make a list of them to see what type of care your lawn needs.  Here’s a primer on indicator weeds and what they can tell you:

 – Hot, dry soils sport black medic, bindweed, dandelions, kochia, stink grass and yarrow.  If the grass seems thin in spots with these weeds, increase the water to this area, or check the sprinkler heads for coverage.

 – Over watered yards have plenty of weeds.  Annual bluegrass, common chickweed, crabgrass, violets and ground ivy plague chronically wet lawns.  Sprinklers may be running too often or for long periods.

 –  Compacted soil is a favorite of mouse-ear and common chickweeds, goose grass, knotweed, annual bluegrass and prostrate spurge.  Core aeration several times per season over two or three years helps break up compaction.  Common mallow

– Lawns mowed too low have crabgrass, yellow wood sorrel, and white clover.  Increase the height on the mower to keep grass at two to three inches tall.

 – Not fertilizing enough, but over watering?  You’ll see black medic with plantains and white clover.  Cut back on the water, and feed the lawn.

– Over fertilizing?  Curled dock, henbit, yellow wood sorrel and annual bluegrass will pop up.  Fertilize lawns in May, September and November, and calibrate your spreader to drop only what the grass needs.

Recognizing turf weeds takes practice. Two websites can help you discover what’s invading your lawn, the North Carolina State University’s turf files or Michigan State University’s turf weeds.net.  They’ll take you step by step through a key to identifying what weed you have.  Then jump back onto the Colorado State University turf website to check for control tips that work in our area.

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