GardenDishes

dishin' the DIRT on hit and myth landscaping

Archive for the tag “butterfly weed”

The Need For SPEED(y) Organic Weed Control

“How do I get rid of weeds in my garden?”

This is probably the most common question I get on my blog, website, and Facebook page, usually coming from someone wanting to garden organically and frustrated there’s not a fast, easy recipe for weed elimination. It’s sort of like my inability to lose a few pounds. It’s not truly an inability. I want an easy way without having to change anything. A shortcut. My problem is not the weight. I need to change my entire approach. A healthier lifestyle. Organic gardening only works when the approach is a healthier garden; not just organic plants but an organic environment, one where nature is in balance. There’s no short -or HORTcut. It’s simple, but not easy. And there will be weeds.

What are weeds anyway? One person’s weed is often another person’s flower.

Or even food.

Since I’m a wildflower fanatic and native plant lover who also tries to grow as much food as possible for us and wildlife, I look at it a bit askew.  For me, a weed’s a plant I’ve not found a use for yet that’s trying to crowd out one that I have found useful. George Washington Carver said, “A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place.” Many of our weeds have BECOME WEEDS because they are non-native, invasive species. But how do you make sure you have the plants you want in the right places? Here are 3 tips I’ve found to low-maintenance organic gardening that might help.

  • CHECK IT OUT. What and where are the weeds plaguing your garden? Use the weeds as your clue. Dogged by dollarweed ? It LOVES wet spots. Nutty from nutgrass/sedge? It’s kissing cousins to papyrus and other sedges that – like dollarweed – prefer to have wet feet.  By identifying your weed first, you should be on the right track to taming the beast.
  • CHANGE IT UP. If your weeds are moisture hogs, adding a bit of sand to improve drainage might do the trick, raising the soil level just enough to make the weeds less comfortable. If your particular genre of weed loves shade, open the canopy of the area by removing lower tree limbs. If it’s a sun lover, pile on the mulch or mow the grass higher, making it difficult to find its way to the sunshine.
  • CHOKE IT OUT. Some weeds are prolific because they can. If weeds are in your lawn, make sure your grass is fat and happy by adding composted materials and sufficient water. If they’re taking root in a flowerbed, heavy mulch (I use pine straw since I live in a pine forest) should do the trick. Having shrubs and perennials spaced at proper intervals leaves no open range for weeds. Having raised beds often alleviates weed issues, too.  I use several methods to remove weeds in beds, including old-fashioned weeding (I have a special tool for this), hot water, or vinegar – depending on where it is and the time of year. I’ll save these for another post.

Nature truly abhors a vacuum.  So the key to successful organic gardening is filling the space with what you choose, not what chooses to grow there. The other key? Tolerance for nature. It’s pretty natural, after all. And certainly organic.

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Wild about Wildflowers, Part 1

Bluebells at Denver Botanic Gardens, where it’s hard to find the ice cream but easy to find the flower.

This week I had great fun with the Ft. Bend Master Gardeners in Rosenberg, Texas. They wanted to hear about one of my plant passions: wildflowers. (I’m sharing a list of my favorite wildflowers at the end of this post, plus a FREE BOOK for a lucky winner!)

Many Americans alive today were not around to remember when wildflowers were called “weeds.” That transformation in thought is a recent developement. (RECENT if you are an old fart, like me.) The Beautification Act of 1965, championed by then 1st lady-Lady Bird Johnson, brought much deserved appreciation for our natural beauties. (Okay, I wasn’t in school yet when LBJ was president, so maybe I’m not THAT old.)

The entry sign at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX.

The entry sign at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX. For more info on the childhood of Lady Bird Johnson, read MISS LADY BIRD’S WILDFLOWERS, by Kathi Appelt with art from Joy Fisher Hein, illustrator of my book, BLOOMIN’ TALES.

For many years, our native wildflowers were sought after as foreign favorites, proven to be hardy additions to European gardens. A prophet in his own land, right? Mrs. Johnson’s love for her Texas roots – and the attached flowers – bloomed into a determination that her fellow Americans were missing the boat. Or at least the wheelbarrow.

So what is a wildflower? “A flower not intentionally planted or seeded,” says Wikipedia. How is that different from a weed? Maybe it’s not. A new friend from Ft. Bend Master Gardeners (thanks, Vic!) says “a weed is a plant that no one has discovered a use for yet.” In my experience, a weed could be a misunderstood wildflower. It’s often a plant that happened to take hold in a spot where it’s unwanted. A wildflower in a flower bed might be okay, but that same plant in the lawn is considered a weed. Why do they seem to thrive in the lawn instead of the well-tended garden? Because most prefer a depleted soil. We take too good of care of them, in other words.

There’s some disagreement on whether a plant should be indigenous to an area to be truly considered a wildflower. Insects, animals, and birds probably prefer dining on natives over foreign plants. Most of us are leery of unknown foods, right? In my book, an INVASIVE plant is always a WEED. Intent on crowding out our native plants, gorgeous flowers lull us into a stupor as they plot to take over the world.

Weed or wildflower, here are 10 of my favorites. Next week I’ll share 10 more easy-to-grow wildflowers.

I’d also like to hear and see some of your favorite wildflowers. Share your wildflower stories and shots with me as a comment here to be in the running for a FREE copy of my children’s book BLOOMIN’ TALES, full of legends telling how some of our wildflowers got their names. And if you are in the Austin area next weekend, the illustrator -Joy Hein- and I will be signing copies on Saturday, April 27th, from 1-4 in the Wildflower Center’s bookstore.

  • fragrant aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)
  • beauty berry (Callicarpa americana)
  • beebalm (Monarda spp.)
  • blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
  • bluebells (Eustoma exaltatum)
  • blue sage (Salvia farinacea) (Salvia x ‘Indigo Spires’)
  • butterfly weed (Aeslepias tuberosa)
  • cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Hinkley’s columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinkleyana)
  • purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

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