I saw my first touch of spring in the beginning of March. It was bright green and growing rampant between the bricks on my patio.
On closer inspection, I identified this growth as chickweed. But it was only the first of March. And so the calls, emails, and samples started coming in to the Horticulture Hotline at the Ohio State University Extension, Lucas County Office. “What is this plant? I’ve never seen it before. It’s in my vegetable garden, in my lawn, in my beds, it’s everywhere.”
No matter what type of garden you tend, weeds are likely one of your more frustrating challenges. However, there are a number of practices you can incorporate in your bag of tricks to keep them under control.
You can learn to recognize weeds that thrive under many conditions and compete with neighboring plants. Weeds compete for root space, water, sun, and nutrients, leaving little left for our plants, but managing them in your garden does not have to be backbreaking or tedious.
Watch out for weed sources. Seeds drift in on breezes or are transferred by animals or insects from nearby weedy areas. Keeping areas adjacent to your garden fairly tidy will reduce the number of unwelcome arrivals. Many of the plants that we think of as weeds in our area have hundreds of seeds. For instance, a single lambsquarter plant has 500,000 seeds with a germination life of 39 years. Wow! No wonder we battle it every year.
The life cycles of weeds differ, and we need to tailor management strategies to fit those differences. Annuals complete their life cycles in one year and reproduce by seed. Summer annuals, such as lambsquarter and purslane, complete their life cycles during a growing season.
Winter annuals such as purple deadnettle and chickweed can overwinter as seedlings and flower the following spring. To decrease these weeds use a pronged hoe and be sure to remove all flowers before they go to seed. Biennials, such as burdock and mullein, set seed in their second year of growth, and then die. They should be dug up. Ground ivy and dandelions are perennials, meaning they live for more than two years. Many reproduce from roots, such as Canadian thistle, or rhizomes (underground stems) like yellow nutsedge, in addition to reproducing by their seeds.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) involves balancing your hopes for a weed-free garden with society’s need for a healthy environment. Gardeners who practice IPM consider many sustainable strategies that work together to keep weeds in check. It is possible to manage most weeds without chemical herbicides. If you use herbicides, please read and follow all directions on the label. If you have any questions, contact your local OSU Extension Office.
Correctly identifying the plant you are battling can help you keep it under control. One of the most well-worn resource books at the OSU Extension Office, Lucas County is Weeds of The Northeast by Richard Hart Uva, Joseph Crowell Neal, Joseph M. DiTomaso.
There are also many excellent Cooperative Extension Websites that have weed identification guidelines:
There is also a Northwest Ohio Community Garden Weed Guide compiled by the OSU Extension, Lucas County. The guide can be found at lucas.osu.edu under “From Plant to Plate”.
If these sources don’t help, please bring the weed to the OSU Horticulture Office on Bancroft, and we will gladly help identify it.
Lee Esterly Richter is a program assistant in urban horticulture with OSU Extension Lucas County. If you have questions, call the OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Horticultural Hotline at 419-578-6783. Volunteers are on hand Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Questions also may be emailed to email@example.com and possibly answered in a future Plant to Plate column.