Weeds in your yard are the enemy. Knowing your enemy makes it easier to guard against invasion, as well as engage in combat when necessary. There are many different kinds of weeds, with a variety of growth habits that affect when and how they should be dealt with. You can learn some things about weeds from just “spending time with them.” However, spending more time pulling weeds is not high on most people’s list of life goals. Thus, it can be very helpful to find information already published.
What is classified as a weed depends on climate, macro-environment, micro-environment, and preferences. Climate is the overall general weather pattern, including common temperatures and moisture. Some plants that grow rampantly in one climate, are nurtured as prize specimens in another. I will always remember telling one of our house-guests from Guatemala about a house plant that I had a hard time growing. I told her I was “always killing it.” She responded with apparent understanding, saying they “always killed them, too!” Then, I figured out that she meant those plants were incredibly invasive in Guatemala. We had a good laugh.
Macro-environment is affected by climate, but also includes factors like unaltered soil, elevation, and terrain materials and patterns. Some weeds are oddly picky about their macro-environment. They like a certain amount of heat or moisture. Other weeds seem to grow almost anywhere, but will have different “looks” in different conditions.
Micro-environments are created by such simple things as structures, man-made watering, and trees, even when people are not thinking much about it; but special pockets can be created on purpose to some extent. There are certain weeds that classically grow along irrigation ditches, but not in other places. Some thrive where there is afternoon shade, or seem to get giddy about a shrub to climb.
Lastly, some people grow plants that others think of as weeds or invasive. Even your neighbor’s lawn can be a weed when it creeps into your flower bed. I have chickens help me with that on one border of our yard. Click here to read about how to build a chicken tunnel. Whether it be an issue of looking for plants that are easy to grow and propagate, wild edibles or herbs, or varieties deemed natural to the habitat, these types of plants are still considered desirable by enough gardeners that they are not classically called weeds. Weeds tends to be a special category of plants that cause anyone engaged in yard upkeep to groan and say mean things about the plants. Poor plants. They are green, too.
But, really, there are some characteristics that make weeds weedy. And it is these characteristics that are useful to be more aware of. They fall into the basic categories of:
- How quickly the weeds propagate.
- How the weeds propagate.
- What time of year they are sprouting and growing.
- At what season or part of life cycle they are easiest to terminate.
- What method of termination they are most susceptible to.
- Whether they are annual or perennial.
- Whether they are poisonous (to either eat or touch).
It can be overwhelming to try to sit down and read about a bunch of weeds, so I recommend something I have been doing in my My Backyard Weeds series. I suggest you begin to study and catalog your weeds one at a time. Find a weed that is particularly bothering you now. Look up photos of it to identify it in all of its stages of growth. Take photos of your own on-sight versions and make a few notes. These notes will help you remember details and will also help you evaluate how to prioritize and proceed with your weeding. In other words, really get to know your enemy.
You may be surprised to find out how like a good plant a weed can look when small, but then it turns into a huge tumble weeds of sharp stickers. Buffalo burr is like that. You might discover the unexpected life cycle of some weeds. I was intrigued to learn that some weeds, like the common mallow, tend to germinate in the fall and overwinter. That’s sneaky. This defies the common belief of winter kill, and unfortunately there are many more perennial weeds than I was aware of.
I have learned that some annuals are reseeding before they are large enough to catch my eye. Also, many weeds don’t obviously flower, so it is almost impossible to keep an eye on that in order to pull them beforehand. Such weeds are also frequently difficult to pull when they are tiny, so pre-emergent is often the best line of defense. Prostrate spurge falls in this category. Annual weeds often have notoriously short life cycles. Diligent mulching can help keep this under control.
Some weeds will flower and reseed even after being sprayed with a killing spray. In these cases, it can be effective to try to remove any obviously flowering stems, but that is not possible on the low growing, mat-like weeds. Some weeds are impervious to sprays, sometimes due to waxy coatings or such robust roots that they have extensive back up or they just don’t perform their photosynthesis in a way that is easily interrupted. Radical pulling and mulching are about all you can do in some cases, so you might as well not spend money or effort on other methods. Often these weeds have so many deep roots that much diligence is required in weakening the plant enough so that it will succumb to your efforts. Perennial quack grass is like this. It looks a bit like wheat to me.
It is always good to know which weeds are more dangerous than you knew. I wrote previously about some baby goats accidentally dying from a common, but highly poisonous landscape shrub. Some weeds are lethal in small amounts, too, such as water hemlock, a not uncommon weed that grows along irrigation ditches. Some weeds are known to be irritating to some people’s skin. Some have sap that is very harmful if gotten in your eyes.
On the other hand, some weeds are both delicious and nutritional for your backyard chickens. Henbit is even named as a hen delicacy. There is more satisfaction from weeding when it is akin to harvesting free food for the flock. And nothing quite like feeding the enemy to the caged beasties. Other livestock seems to be both pickier in eating habits and more easily harmed by weeds, so do your research before feeding an animal any weed.
The more I have learned about my weeds, the better I have become at evaluating how to spend my energy trying to keep them under control. Knowing that I am using the most effective approach helps keep me engaged in weed eradication with more hope and patience. Now, when I see a problem area in the yard, I can eye it with cunning and say under my breath, “I will be back and I have a plan.”