The Seeds of Spring BLOG

Lessons From the Garden

Why Are There Weeds? July 17, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 6:59 pm

Pulling weeds can be a satisfying chore, particularly on a bright spring day. But by the dog days of summer, the task gets old. You’ve been pulling what seems like the same weeds from the same places for what seems like years. It’s hot—much hotter, and usually more humid. And it’s taking time from more pleasant garden chores, like harvesting ripe tomatoes and cutting zinnias for home displays. As well as giving you more chances to get sunstroke or soak up too much ozone on particularly bad-air-quality days that tend to roll around quite too often in July and August.

So why are their weeds? Why can’t we have just “good” plants?

Okay, every plant—weed or desirable—has a purpose, even if I can’t imagine what it is. They all evolved through the same process. Survival of the fittest. And some weeds can be, maybe not good plants, but maybe occasionally tolerable plants, at times. People make wine from dandelions. Wild onions and garlic grace spring salads. Fields of buttercups and old shacks covered in morning glory vines can be adorable—if they aren’t spreading into your territory.

This nasty weed sends runners under black plastic and wood chips.

I supposed that in some deep dark recesses of history, weeds were among the first green life to establish itself beyond the oceans on ancient Earth. I can see their tenacious roots exploiting the tiniest cracks in lifeless boulder-strewn or volcanic fields and literally opening the door for other, more refined plants to begin their inexorable spread.

Some nature lovers might opine that one man’s weed is another man’s flower. But the way I see it, one man’s weed is another man’s … weed.

I have two styles of weeding. The lazy way, and the intense way. I seem to vary my styles based on how much time I have and how hot it is and, most importantly, my attitude. Some days, I just don’t think I can possibly win this war, so I kind of pick what I can and expect the garden to get on with its business, to “cowboy up,” as some might say, and just deal with it. Other days, I’m determined to wipe them off the face of the planet—or, at least, off the face of my plot.

You can guess what happens when I do things the lazy way: The weeds act as if they never had been touched; maybe even as if I had just given them extra special magic weed food and begged them to prosper. And you can probably guess what happens when I attack the weeds with extra fervor: About the same as if I had ignored them.

Pollen-happy bumblebee meets sun-drenched zinnia.

I can go over every inch of one of my raised beds and come back a minute or three later and, voila, gigantic weeds have sprung up, or sneaked into the bed from a nearby location, under the mistaken belief that I was done there for the day. Or, they simply hide under or behind bean foliage or mulch or a pole—anything that offers the slightest respite. Perhaps they have learned how to re-grow from the roots in rapid fashion never previously chronicled. I can’t rule it out.

Each weed seems to have its own personality. Some are brazen: They might grow five inches in the five days since you last visited that shady corner of your plot, more or less right out in the open. Others are sneaky: They wrap around the stalks of raspberry canes or dahlia stalks and don’t send out obvious signs until they have reached a height or three feet or more.

And they there are the guerrilla warriors, the really evil, unstoppable, despicable weeds. Like the weed my friend John calls wire grass. It’s not what Wikipedia and other sources depict when you look up the name. But it’s a name that fits well, whatever its true botanical identity might be. It’s tough. It’s deeply rooted. It’s almost impossible to pull or dig up. And it travels more than a foot underground, without sunlight, in search of the weak spot in the mulch where it can surface, strengthen and spread.

I have covered it with black plastic mulch and shoveled as much as three inches of wood chips or other hard mulch, and it still finds a way to thrive. It grows right through the plastic. One layer, two layers. It doesn’t matter. It simply won’t die, at least with organic methods.

This was a healthy tomato branch before the worm arrived.

So I am trying to reduce my expectations. To keep it outside the fence line. To battle it to a draw. Right now, it’s winning.

Why are there weeds? Probably because life would be just a little too easy, because gardening would be just a little too sweet, without them. And to give garden bloggers something to write about.

The other challenge keeping me up at night these days is the tomato hornworm. It’s the larval stage of a fairly mundane moth. It can devour many times its weight in tomato leaves and stalks. And it’s almost invisible; its dark green color allows it to blend in well with the plants it destroys.

I have been watching and measuring its progress consuming one of my mid-season tomato plants. I have searched for it with my eyes and my hands. It just disappears during the day, or at least the part of the day when I’m looking for it. It eats at me almost as much as it eats at my tomato.

I keep hoping that a bird has found it and carried it off for lunch. But, I must admit, the damage it has done to date is simply not all that bad. Sort of annoying, in a tenacious weed sort of way. Perhaps I’m getting soft in my old age, but I think I might be able to learn to live with it. And live with weeds. And many other annoying things.

Because it’s July in the garden. And there is nothing better in Heaven or on Earth than that.