• Last modified 835 days ago (June 13, 2019)


Another Day in the Country

A right sense of place

© Another Day in the Country

Once upon a time, I read the definition of a weed as “a plant growing in the wrong place.”

In a broad sense, I agree with this definition. However — and whenever there is a “broad definition” you just know there are a whole bunch of “howevers” — a whole bunch of what we term “weeds” are truly a pain to gardeners.

These weeds are persistent. They are prolific. They are hardy and usually drought tolerant. They are fakers, masquerading as if they could be the beneficial plant they are growing next to. Sometimes they are downright mean.

Most of them, I can’t identify with a name. But here they are, clamoring for sunlight, food, and water right along with the helpful, delicious, fragrant, beautiful plants in my garden.

Weeds are the bane of the gardener. They are like bad neighbors — “move-ins” my aunt used to say — “and they don’t really care about the town,” or the garden, as the case may be.

Strangely, rabbits don’t really like them. Bugs steer clear. What’s a gardener to do? I hate using harsh chemicals in my garden for bugs or weeds, but sometimes I’m desperate.

“I heard about a weed killer that doesn’t harm the environment,” my cousin Gary said to me the other day. “I’ll send you the recipe. It’s made with vinegar, detergent, and Epsom salt.”

Well, the other day on a foraging trip I bought large sizes of all three of those ingredients. I mixed them up and applied them. We’ll see whether it works.

This is a perfect time for doing yard work. The weather isn’t too hot, and the ground is still moist from all the rain that we’ve had. It’s the perfect time to pull out or cut out all the random young trees that find themselves in the “weed” category, adding a harsher chemical than vinegar and Epsom salt.

I hate using zonky stuff, but how do you control all that tree seed? There’s a persistent young ash tree hiding in the middle of my red dogwood bush.

I keep thinking, “I’ve got it all this time.” But, never fail, in the spring, there it is again.

I’m always cautious because even though the chemical is not intended for the dogwood, the ash and dogwood roots are mixed together in the soil, and the poor, more sensitive dogwood always sustains some damage.

“I’ll just trim it back without using chemicals,” I said to myself as I hunted through the branches of the dogwood for that ash.

There it was! I got my pruner in place and then I noticed something. Right in the crown of the young tree, shaded by my lovely dogwood bush, was a nest with three tiny speckled eggs. I looked again today, and now there are five!

I couldn’t cut it down. Suddenly the weed, the tender young ash tree, became something important — home for a young bird family.

“I’ll cut it down later.” I told myself

Often I get angry at those tricky trees that come up in the wrong place. Do they somehow know that they have a better chance of survival because they are hidden in something the gardener planted on purpose? Or is it just any plant’s natural survival instinct? Like people, plants need friends close by.

With all this rain, the mulberry trees are sending out feelers all over town.

“Here’s a good spot,” one said, and I found it suddenly a foot tall right beside the heirloom tomato vine I planted a month ago.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded

Now, I’m in a pickle because I know that any harsh chemical I use on the misplaced tree will kill the tomato.

I moved the tomato! And then I cut off the tree and put tree killer on the stem. At the moment I’m resenting mulberry trees!

“Bloom where you are planted,” say the philosophers. But often it’s a struggle.

Like a true scientist, I carefully mixed my newfound non-toxic ingredients and sprayed them on weeds, starting under the rose bushes in my front yard, where weeds are difficult to pull because of all the rose thorns.

I had high hopes. I tried a few other places — “test patches,” I thought, being a skeptic at heart.

Within half a day, the smaller, young weeds were wilting, and I was excited, thinking, “Maybe this stuff will work.”

The next day I checked again. Spraying vinegar and Epsom salt might work on really small stuff, but on six-inch-tall weeds, it’s like a slap on the wrist instead of a death blow.

However, I’ll try again because I care about the environment and I’m dedicated to finding safe solutions on another day in the country.

Last modified June 13, 2019