The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 21, 2006


Despite its pretty yellow leaves, woodsorrell is still a weed, and it's easy to pull it up by hand. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

The Country Gardener:
Is this a weed?

Some people are paralyzed into inaction against the onslaught of unwanted vegetation (weeds) that grows on bare earth and mulch. Is it a weed? Might it be a flower? The resulting hesitation, sadly, leads to the inevitable untidy, weedy gardens that greet anyone returning from a vacation away from home. Here are some guidelines for the novice.

Does it look like grass? Who cares if it is Bermuda grass, crab grass, quack grass or Johnson grass? It is stealing moisture, nutrients and sun from the desirable plants and has got to go. Pull it up by taking a firm grip on the leaves as close to the soil as possible and yanking out the entire stem and roots. This might be a finger-and-thumb pluck if it is tiny, or a two-fisted tug of war if it has been allowed to grow to octopus proportions. Remember that any little two-bladed baby grass will grow into a seed-bearing monster in less than a month. It is better to pluck them while they are little.

Those prolific weeds

So now that all the grass is gone, what about those other leafy green things that you don't remember planting? I'm not very good at naming different weeds, but not too bad at identifying them as "yank 'em" candidates. One prolific weed in Carlisle is the lemon-tasting, heart-shaped clover look-alike that as a child we called "Sourgrass" but books identify as Woodsorrel. My son Gavin still likes to munch them. Fortunately they are easy to pull up by hand. Their yellow flowers might be rather pretty, but after the flowers come seeds, which have a germination rate of 150% at least. The best time to weed by hand is right after a rain.

Rather than get into a quagmire describing and naming all the weeds I have known in Carlisle, it might be useful to point out some clues that could lead a gardener to determine the good guys from the bad. Is this the only plant or are there matching plants in other places in the yard? If you see the same leaf pattern in many places in your yard, then it is a weed. Do you see any flowers? If they are ugly, or teeny tiny, then it is a weed. Is the plant growing very close to or clearly between known desirable plants? Is the leaf different from the desirable plant? It must be a weed.

A weed with promise

Every gardener has stories of an unknown plant that was put "on watch" which turned out to be a robust weed with a gazillion seeds. One plant I was watching showed extreme promise, and I looked forward to discovering the color of what I hoped would be its many attractive flowers. It had attained a bushy three-foot height and was covered with buds, and I was hoping it would be a real asset to the plant border. Unfortunately the plant failed to make any petals and went directly from the bud to the fuzzy brown seed stage. It was not a pretty sight, and I had been watering the interloper!

Weeds aren't the only inhabitants of local gardens this week. Perennials now in bloom around Carlisle include Echinacea (Coneflower), Liatris spicata (Blazing-star, Gay-feather), Coreopsis verticillata (Tickseed), and Achillea filipendula (Yarrow). Rudbeckia hirta (annual Black-eyed Susan) has been blooming for a couple of weeks, as have Hemerocallis (Daylily), Hydrangea (Malva sylvestris), and Monarda (Beebalm).

If you have gardening questions, please e-mail me at Alison Saylor at, and I'll try to answer them.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito