It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of Spring and all your long-awaited flower bulbs and perennial plants are exploding into life with the warm weather, but with the good- comes the bad.
These little buggers are the bane of my existance. Or at least one of the banes. I hate their very presence and feel offended that they dare to grow in my garden!!!
However, they are just trying to survive and populate like the rest of the living things on earth. If they weren’t so good at it, they wouldn’t be weeds now, would they?
A loose definition of a weed is ‘any plant that grows where you don’t want it to’ and following on from that you can add ‘populates spontaneously and in great numbers’. A broad definition like this can encompass many types of plants; from aquatic (eg Water Hyacinth) to grasses (eg Pampas Grass), trees and shrubs (eg Privet or Lantana), herbs (not the ones you eat, but rather a herb is the name for any small shrub or plant that doesn’t have a woody stem, eg lawn weeds like Oxalis), and vines (eg Morning Glory). Basically, any ininvited or potentially dangerous plant that is in your garden without you having planted it or wanting it there, is a weed.
Asparagus fern. A particularly annoying garden weed!
Mint- can be an enthusiastic grower, but since I don't mind it growing here I don't consider it a weed.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries
classes weeds in five categories, determined by seriousness of the weeds’ impact and the ecosystem/landscape they are of greatest risk to (the categories are Noxious weeds, Environmental weeds, Agricultural weeds, Weeds of National Significance, and National Environmental Alert List Weeds). The government created the Noxious Weeds Act 1993
to give guidelines and requirements for the management of weeds, as some plants can cause serious environmental and ecological damage if left uncontrolled.
Patterson's Curse - Echium plantagineum - toxic to livestock
If you have a think about where you have seen weeds, and what you think and feel when you see them, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bindii, Lantana, Thistle, Patterson’s Curse, Privet, Clover, Asparagus Fern, etc all come to mind. It would be unusual for somebody living in Australia not to have encountered or at least heard about these weeds at some point in their life.
Confusingly though, some native species can also be weeds- for example a West Australian wattle (Acacia saligna) is a problem species since being introduced to the eastern Australian coast. In my backyard I find ‘Bower of Beauty’ (I had to google the common name- I’ve only ever known it by its proper name Pandorea jasminoides) to be a weed because it grows uncontrolled and it keeps growing or sprouting new shoots as fast as I can cut it all back! It’s a beautiful plant when it’s in flower, but it has a tendency to grow over other plants and suffocate them. The dead and dying branches also stay trapped in the vine and create a huge mess of sticks and twigs. Great habitat for little birds, but it would be preferrable to me to give them lots of native trees to hide in instead (my little bottlebrush is growing, but it’s taking its time!!).
It can be a neverending battle to keep the weeds away from the garden, and whilst most people hate it and avoid it…in a strange way I find weeding to be very cathartic and relaxing. Relaxing only until you stand up, knees and back aching, and survey your work and realise you’ve just spent an hour weeding a patch that turned out to only be 2mx2m.
Petty Spurge - loves popping up all over the lawn and in my garden beds!
Petty Spurge - luckily it's easily ripped out.
So this is the time of year to be tackling the weeds, before they get too big and too out of control. With this warm weather it won’t take long for them to completely overrun your lawn or garden beds. I know in my garden, it seems like all I have to do is turn away for a minute and that’s enough time for them to multiply and take hold!
There are two, maybe three, weeds that are on my absolute KILL LIST. I’m not sure if everyone else has the same problems with them as I do, but I figure if I can eradicate them from my garden at least that will be one less patch of earth that they can take over and compete with natives or my ornamentals.
This plant was introduced as a garden ornamental from South America, and for the life of me can’t figure out why anybody would want this invasive, disgusting-smelling, ugly looking plant in their yard!!!
Green Cestrum infestation
It is a woody plant with large bright green leaves that are borne mainly from the main stem/trunk. It has an invasive and long-lived root system that sends up shoot and suckers both close to and far away from the main plant. It has a characteristic stench, and bright yellow coloured roots.
Green Cestrum plant and shoots/suckers
It gets yellow flowers, which are slightly pretty, but these too stink during the day (although they apparently smell sweeter at night). It gets black berries which are eaten and dispersed by birds.
The fight with Cestrum in my garden is never ending, but I’ve added a new weapon to my arsenal and slowly but surely I am getting rid of it. The only way to truly get rid of it is to dig the roots out, which is hard and labour-intensive but well worth it because if you get almost all of the root out then you will probably not see the plant in that particular location again.
Green Cestrum shoots/suckers
My new weapon-
MATTOCK- I call it the 'weedinator'
Asparagus sp. (most commonly Asparagus densiflorus, but there are over 100 species)
Asparagus fern comes from South Africa, and started as a garden ornamental plant because it has a fluffy octopus kind of look when it’s fully grown. But since I know what it is and what it does, when I look at it all I see is a big green spiny pile of PEST.
Asparagus fern - deceptively invasive and horrid.
The amount of sores I’ve gotten on my hands from embedded spikes, and the hours of sweating away in the garden removing it, makes me hate this plant with a passion. It has underground tubers that kind of look like tiny little pointy potatoes. These hold water and nutrients and mean that even if you pull out all the leaves/fronds/stems then it still has enough energy to grow more.
It gets a bright red berry which is eaten by birds and, you guessed it, spread by birds. It is a problem in bushland and home gardens because the tubers and roots form an impenetrable network which stops any other plant from being able to grow, and it can also impede water percolation into the ground.
I find the root mass is easier to remove with a weeding tool such as:
Which uses a levering method to pull the plant up by its roots. Particularly useful for flat weeds (dandelions, etc) and spiky things that you would rather not touch (thistle, etc).
Those are the two main weeds in my garden that I hate with a passion, but there are plenty more that deserve to be eradicated. Thistles, oxalis, petty spurge, carrot weed, bindii, etc etc. I don’t have the time to talk about them all though.
Clover is also a weed which invades lawns, but when you get clover in your lawn it tells you that your soil is nitrogen deficient. Clover is a special type of plant (legume family) that is able to grow in very poor soils, because it can draw from the atmospheric nitrogen in order to get the nourishment it needs but can’t get from the soil. It is common for farmers to plant a crop of nitrogen-fixing plants such as clover or peas, and then till them back into the soil to give it the nitrogen it needs in order to grow other crops. A permaculture spokesperson I was listening to once told us all of the dangers of the world ‘running out of nitrogen’. This is impossible, and all her little speech did was make her look like a fool. Whilst it is true that the main nitrogen ‘mines’ off on the Christmas Islands and the like, which are ancient piles of guano (bird poo) are being depleted, Nitrogen is an element and as such can’t be destroyed and will always be around. It’s like trying to say that the world will run out of carbon because all the forests are being chopped down and the fossil fuels mined. Nitrogen exists in the nitrogen cycle and we will never run out of it.
Clover invading the lawn
Now is the time to assess your garden and be brutal about getting rid of the weeds. What looks like a little innocuous plant now, could soon turn into a big nasty invasive weed! I don’t use chemicals unless absolutely necessary- I prefer to pull them out by hand for instant gratification and beautification of the lawn. After you’ve pulled out the weeds in the garden bed, a thick covering of mulch (such as pine chips) will help stop the weeds from growing through again.
Chemical-free is also safer for the animals that might frequent your garden and also safer for the ornamentals and natives you want to keep! Now really is the best time to get out in the garden as well, because it’s not hot enough to make it impractical and it’s before most of the weeds have set seed or come into flower. The trick with weed removal is to get the plants BEFORE they reproduce, otherwise it will be a pointless exercise. When you pull up your weeds or cut them right back to the ground, DON’T put the waste in your compost or in the normal bin, put them in a plastic bag and tie it up. Leave it outside for a week or so, to be sure the plants are completely dead (they can be tenacious little buggers) and then throw the bag into the bin. This will ensure that the weeds won’t live to see another day somewhere off down the track.
Now it’s time for me to get out and tackle the thistles…
Happy weeding :-)
Pictorial Guide to the weeds declared ‘noxious’ under the Noxious Weeds Act (1993).
Comprehensive Report/Action Plan on the noxious weed ‘Green Cestrum’Cestrum parqui.
Weeds Australia- by the Australian Weeds Committee (has a good Weed ID database).
A list of common lawn and garden weeds in Australia, and how to control them.