Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Know Thine Enemies or Something Like That

Weeds!  Curses, curses, curses!
While I was at work today I kept thinking about how much of my limited time out in the yard has been spent pulling weeds recently. As a chemical-free gardener, weed control is a laborious process for me. I liken it to jogging. It’s no fun, but when you are finished you feel like you have accomplished something and you feel better.  Well, that is you feel better unless you pull a muscle, develop shin splints, sprain an ankle, pop a blister on your foot, ruin your knees, get bit by a poodle, step in a puddle, fall on your face, or suffer from heat stroke. And then, if you somehow manage to survive the ordeal, you know you will just have to do it again and again before you even start to see any long term benefits from your efforts.

Look, I’ve got a full-time job, a toddler to help raise, a couple softball teams to coach, book clubs to participate in, social obligations, neighborhood watch meetings to attend, and Boston Red Sox games that need to be watched. In other words, I really don’t want to spend my free time pulling stupid weeds.  [Heavy sigh] But I know I need to.  And yes, my waistline could probably benefit from some jogging as well. [Heavier sigh - pun intended.] 

While bitterly mulling over this topic, it occurred to me that I was feeling more than a little bit of animosity towards my weeds.  In fact, my thoughts on weeds were downright unkind!  After all, they compete with my plants, they monopolize my time, and they steal my garden tools when I’m not looking. Okay, I admit that last part isn’t entirely true. I probably just misplaced that trowel.  But still, it'll be a cold July day in Sacramento before I'll trust them with my stuff! (For the out-of-towners, there's no such thing as a cold July day in Sacramento.  Just look at for proof that I do not jest.)

Side note: I don’t know what I’d do without the internet. Aside from providing me with historical weather data and the gazillion other ways it enriches my life, I am so thankful for the knowledge the internet provides me in my gardening endeavors.  Seriously, what did people do when they had a question none of their friends could answer before there were search engines?  (I can practically hear my mom shouting "Encyclopedias, Dummy!" at me.) 

Still mulling over the role weeds play in my life I asked myself this morning, “What’s that quote about knowing your enemy's weaknesses?”  Sounds like a question for Google.  Go ahead, click on the link before reading on.  It's worth a giggle or two.  According to the always correct Internet, the quote is a lot less quotable than I had remembered. I was thinking something like “Know thine enemies” but turned up with the much longer-winded quote:

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” -Sun Tzu,  "Art of War"

Bear with me. There is a point to all this. You see, I know I have weeds and I have established that they are my enemies, but unlike the Japanese maples cultivars, ornamental grasses, and bell peppers in my garden, I don’t know the names of my enemies.  I suppose I just never liked weeds enough to find out what they were called.  A gruff and generic "that's a weed" would suffice if someone asked me what I was cultivating in my driveway.  You see, unlike blooming poppies on the roadside or fragrant roses growing by a picket fence, you don't often hear people say stuff like "Oh my!  Check out that courageous little nutsedge growing in the crack on the sidewalk."  Call it a gap in my education as a gardener, but the study of weeds doesn't seem to lend itself to learning by osmosis.   

It was past time to change this deficiency of mine so, once again, I turned to Google even though I knew where it would take me this time. I’m lucky enough to live pretty close to the University of California at Davis which has a great horticultural department and they have an entire web site devoted to scientifically-supported advice on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for both agricultural purposes and home landscaping. Through their web site I was able to look at a key with the most common weeds in our area and then identify the three officers leading the forces against me.  Here they are:

Sergeant Spotted Spurge
This is where the sidewalk and my driveway meet.  "Welcome home" it screams at me every single day.

Colonel Creeping Woodsorrel
The horticultural version of tailgating: "Dude, get off my grass already!"

Growing amongst wooly thyme, this can be hard to spot until it flowers.

Commandant Common Purslane.
Today's Two-for-One special: Common Purslane with a splat of Spurge. 

The good news is that all three of these can be picked off - and I literally mean that literally.  As long as I stay vigilant and pull these out by hand before they set seed I will win the battle and, eventually, the war will be easier to fight.  In the meantime, I'm a better garden warrior for knowing their names. 


  1. I too battle weeds because I don't nuke them with herbicides. But come the end of July, I get a new perspective on them. Not because it is hot outside, but because they actually look pretty in flower. I let them grow right along with the Delphinium and roses (I hear the shudders loudly now), but as long as you dead head them like a perennial or pull them like the spurge, many do not reseed. It is those that have runners that need containment and pulling though. This is my favorite time of year for the wildflowers. See, new perspective!

  2. That sounds kind of like an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" strategy. That might make my life easier!

  3. Good research-- Now I know what to call that little red clover thing that comes up everywhere, sneaky, growing inside other plants. Creeping wood sorrel indeed. I do have one little groundcover weed I let grow. Pretty and tiny orange flowers. Stays in one bed. I better find out what it is...

  4. I don't know the name of many of my weeds - I just know they're not supposed to be there! I was pulling a vine today and wondered what it was. Three leaves - but I don't *think* it was poison ivy!

  5. Linniew - your weed with the orang flowers sounds like another one that I have too. I guess that means I should probably look that one up too.

    Holley- a word of advice: if you find yourself scratching your head about that vine I would stop scratching right away! :)

  6. Chad, Enjoyed my visit to your Blog. You must be a great character to know. Liked your attitude. Here I have weeds too! Seems the universal pain in life for all gardeners. I always hope the "real" flowers will grow tall enough so I don't see them! Here at Lake Michigan it is hot too this Summer, but no doubt never as hot for as long as you have it. Thank goodness for all the water out my front door!! Hope to visit soon. Jack

  7. Thank you so much for stopping by and saying hi, Jack. It's very hot here most of the summer but I have to confess that it's a dry heat at least so it could be worse (but not much).

  8. Weeds? My Ungardener calls them free spirited plants. I only remove what really bothers me - Paterson's Curse, and even that has caterpillars feeding on it.

    Btw no link to your garden blog from G+

  9. My secret weapon for weeds in cracks. And dandelions. Mix a spray bottle with straight pickling vinegar (it's a 7% solution). add about a quarter teaspoon of dish soap, shake and spray. You need to do it on a sunny day. Within a few hours they start to die. really careful with spray drift. It kills everything. With dandelions, you will get a circle of dead lawn and you will need to reapply about three to four times. The new little dandelion shoots keep coming out, but after a few times, they just give up and die. To spray dandelions or something I can't get out of a flower bed and am afraid of drift, I had my husband cut a piece of four inch PVC pipe and I put it over the weed and spray into the tube. I wait for the drift to settle before I remove tube. Works great. Sorry this is so wordy. Good luck.