Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Controlling Bad Weeds with Good Weeds

Dry places with no tree cover or with trees with soft leaves are a challenge to control weeds in; most weeds don’t care whether or not they are irrigated, and dry ground is difficult to pull weeds out of.  Wind-blown weeds blow in and grow on naked soil wherever it occurs.  Mulch has to be renewed yearly to be really effective, but the natural leaf mulch doesn’t last.  Perennial ground covers generally need water through the summer; if they don’t and they are fast growing, they are a weed danger themselves.  English Ivy is a case in point.
One way to control such ground is to grow annual plants over the winter and spring that cover the soil and keep it covered through the summer, blocking the germination of wind-blown weeds.  The chosen plants have to be succulent enough to fall to the ground when they are done seeding, so as not to create a fire danger.  Their seeds have to drop, not pop, not spread on the wind or catch on fur or clothing, and be numerous enough that they crowd out other plants as they grow.
At least three plants fit the bill in this area:  Chickweed, miners’ lettuce, and red henbit.  The first two are also good greens for spring tonic and for chicken feed; henbit is a somewhat toxic mint, but is pretty when it turns purple as it flowers and then yellow as it seeds out.  All three top out at about 8” high and fall to the ground as they die.  They also use the same nutrients that are used by other flowering  weeds, crowding them out nutritionally as well.
This happens naturally under the locust trees down by the river at the Greenwood Overlook in Grants Pass.   The open areas have thin, poor soil that has been a mess of bad weeds that have been periodically whacked to keep the nuisance weeds and their fire danger down, but cutting doesn’t kill them.  But under the locust trees, the chickweed, miners lettuce, and henbit dominate, along with some annual grain grasses loved by dogs in the spring when they are tender. 
These broadleaf plants keep the grass thin enough to not be a fire hazard; their mulch keeps the ground covered through the summer; they come up in autumn as the leaves fall and they grow through the winter, blooming and seeding in spring.  Miners lettuce, a truly decorative plant that was taken to Europe from America, is more dominating than chickweed or henbit. 
As these succulent plants dry out, they ripen and drop their seed, which makes it easy to spread seed from one place to another.  Just pull a bunch of the plants you want after they have made some seed, and spread them where you want them to grow.  Chickweed and miners lettuce break off their roots at ground level when they are flowering, leaving the soil undisturbed.
They won’t dominate new ground quickly without a bit of help by weeding.  But spreading the seed you want while weeding out the plants you dislike will allow the good weeds to take over and control the ground for you within two years if they grow well.

Published at Yahoo Voices under The Natural Gardener.

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