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Miss Floribunda: Drowning in weeds

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Posted on: October 25, 2015

Dear Miss Floribunda,

Help! My garden has been taken over by monster weeds.  A neighbor told me that I worried too much about weeds that would just die with the first frost and not enough about others that once rooted would be a problem for ever. She didn’t know the names of any of them. I need a list to help me in my own personal War of the Weeds.

 Invaded on Ingraham Street 


Dear Invaded,

While your neighbor is quite right that many weeds die with the first frost, some vigilance is still needed because they self-seed. Decapitate the flowering garlic mustard before it forms seed heads. Save your energy for pulling out tree seedlings, especially oak. The squirrels are very big on reforestation, and those acorns they bury in your yard will sprout.  But these are not your only invading monsters.

Here are the Top Ten Space Invaders (or Invaders of Space), by extraterrestrial category :

10) Mercury, or the Bamboozlers: once it is planted, nothing can get rid of bamboo except an army of pandas. Bamboo used to be illegal and it still should be. Some of its relatives, such as pampas grass, are illegal in Hawaii and California.

9)  Venus, or Lethal Lovelies: these include the deliciously fragrant autumn clematis now in bloom, as well as honeysuckle vines, wild morning glory, (also known as bindweed), the purple-flowered creeping Charlie, and the yellow-flowered creeping Jenny.  Give them an inch and they’ll take a parsec.

8) Mars, or Aggressive Stranglers: they go well beyond Boston 一 English ivy, poison ivy … all ivy will throttle anything in its path. Birds eat and distribute their berries very efficiently.

7) Jupiter, or  Regal Ravagers: both King Kudzu, and his consort from the legume family, Queen Wisteria, have bid fair to devour the south of the United States. I once knew an old lady whose entire house was held together by wisteria after the framework had been rotted out beneath it. Wisteria has been spotted in trees in Hyattsville. Although there are no reports of kudzu in Hyattsville yet, it has swallowed some empty lots in Washington, DC. Beware!

6) Saturn, or Hostile Hosts: bush honeysuckle and Japanese barberry are among the worst because they harbor ticks carrying Lyme disease. Birds eat their berries and the rest is history of the most sinister sort.

5) Uranus, or Sticky Hitchhikers: these are those prickly things that attach to your clothing when you hike and cause you to abet their plans to take over your  garden. They include catchweed bedstraw, Spanish needle, and beggar’s lice plants 一 all of which are prevalent in our area this year.

4) Neptune, or Seditious Seedlings: not only do you need to pull out oak seedlings all year, but watch for mulberry, maple, elm, catalpa, redbud, and rose of sharon (althea) seedings as well. Small ones are not hard to dig up with a trowel or spade, but once established you’ll almost need a backhoe to get them out!

3) Pluto, or Underground Underminers: Johnson grass, Bermuda (wire) grass, mugwort, ditch daylilies  are all stoloniferous, which means they have runners that keep going underground until there’s no room for anything else. They get stronger the deeper they grow. The only way to get rid of them is to smother them with black plastic covering, but that also rids you of everything else you may be trying to cultivate.

2) Uranus, or Ghastly Grasses: Basket grass, Japanese stilt grass, nutgrass, and some sedges have been invading our area along with as garlic mustard. Garlic mustard, though not a garlic, smells and tastes like it. This is ironic because it is a vampire that sucks the life out for everything else. Watch out for thistles and dandelions 一 these if left to go to seed create a blizzard of felonious fluff that is carried by wind all over the neighborhood.  All of these can be controlled by decapitation before they go to seed.

1) Krypton, or Hidden Horrors: these are aggressive plants that resemble well-behaved ones. For example, mugwort plants look like chrysanthemum plants (sniff them to tell the difference); Indian, wind, or mock strawberries from the potentilla family look like wild strawberries (but if you taste the berries you will find them without any strawberry taste, or any taste at all); garlic mustard resembles white ageratum and of course smells like garlic; poison sumac before forming white rather than red drupes looks just like the perfectly innocent ornamental shrub. But most to be feared is ET (Extra Terrible), the dreaded porcelain berry. It looks like our own native wild grape, but is an alien that combines the worst of the worst of all the others. It is a Lethal Lovely that lures you with its beautiful berries, an Underground Underminer, a Strangler, and Ravager. Here you need to resort to an herbicide, which of course you should apply very, very carefully just to the base of the cut stalks.

To discuss these and other gardening concerns, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society on Saturday, October 17, from 10 AM to 12 noon. It will be held in the home of Joe Buriel and Dave Roeder, 3909 Longfellow Street, and will include a plant exchange.



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