Rushing from fields
D.o Do you practice safe gardening? One of my basic techniques for protecting myself and my garden has just saved me from eternal headaches.
I now always wear a hat in the sun because I had to have small patches cut from my scalp, and last summer I learned the hard way how to stay hydrated and not work hard in the garden in the middle of a hot summer day. Even though I have scarred hands and wrists and have had lots of splinters, I still don’t wear gloves, but I’ve run out of tetanus shots. Other precautions include storing sharp tools safely, storing fuel and other noxious materials in a well-ventilated tool shed, reading pesticide labels before mixing or using, and the like.
But this week one simple step helped me avoid a real garden hazard. I defied mosquitoes, moisture, and the ghost of hauling water every few days to get a cool “passalong” plant that a friend gave me. I get a lot of plants this way and by plant swapping, but I never plant them right in the garden, and for good reason: They often come with heavy weeds.
Controlling unwanted plants takes more time and effort than any other aspect of gardening combined. And I still have them, even though I used a lot of mulch to reduce weed seeds and walk around every spring and fall pulling, hoeing, and cutting the ones that got away. And I make it a point to never pass a weed without pulling it before it establishes itself and sends out runners or forms seeds.
Incidentally, I do not discriminate against the country of origin; The worst weeds in my garden, other than walnut and Bermuda grass, are native plants that are naturally adapted to spread here. Poison ivy, Virginia creepers, tree saplings, and even some of my beloved wildflowers need to be kept at bay with regular dragging when they show up in uncomfortable places.
However, due to productive seed production, some plants are nearly impossible to control. Sure, they can be pulled at first sight before they become an established colony, and fresh seeds can be mulched to death. And yes, herbicides work, either sprayed on existing weeds or as granules that prevent seeds from germinating, but mostly they’re at the bottom of my bag of tricks because they’re temporary and can easily damage my other plants.
In this week’s near miss, I found a terrible weed that was in my friend’s passalong plant. Like me, he uses homemade potting soil that has a little bit of regular garden soil in it to keep them in place so they don’t have to be watered as often. The problem is I noticed some tiny seedlings in the pot that raised the horticultural reels on the back of my neck.
This particular plant was bittersweet (Phyllanthus urinaria), also called “mimosa herb” because it looks like small mimosa tree seedlings. Members of the Mississippi Gardening Facebook group called it their worst weed. Tiny seed balls on the underside of the leaf produce countless seeds that can germinate for years. Best control: pull, mulch hard, then pull and mulch more. Repeat this every year until you move.
Or don’t let it go at all. I carefully de-potted the mother, washed her roots thoroughly, and dumped the potting soil in a place where no bitter seeds in it could infest my or my neighbors’ gardens.
Practical “safe garden” tip against weeds: create new pass alongs in a “quarantine” area until you are satisfied that no hitchhikers are ruining the garden. Better safe than sorry.