Smack-talking weeds: What is the worst in your garden?

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Amy says: Well, I’m not gonna lie. I have been very lucky so far, and I haven’t had to deal with any nasty invasive weeds in my garden yet (knock on wood). The worst invasive plants I’ve dealt with so far are ones that I planted myself (I’m looking at you Chinese lanterns, ferns and whatever that daisy was). I know how good I’ve got it, I hear about creeping Charlie from my dad all the time, and I have many friends who’ve had to rent excavation equipment to remove the buckthorn growing on their property. Of course, I’m not saying my gardens are weed free, ha! Far from it.

An example of Amy's tree seedling strife

An example of Amy’s tree seedling strife

My worst invasive plant right now is not a common weed, or an aggressive perennial that I planted myself. No, the weed that plagues my gardens year after year comes from the neighbors’ trees. Every spring and summer, the trees on our property line dump loads of seeds into my gardens. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were thousands of tree seedlings in my gardens last year, and the problem’s only getting worse.  If I let them, they would quickly take over my gardens, and my backyard would become a dense forest.

I find it easiest to control the tree seedlings in areas where I have a thick layer of mulch. I rake the mulch to move it around and dislodge the seedlings. But I have to stay on top of it, because this only works when they seedlings are really small. I’ve come to realize that when you have weedy trees near your gardens, dealing with tree seedlings is going to be a constant battle.

Niki says: I get asked a lot of gardening questions during my weekly radio show. One of the more frequent queries deals with eradicating invasive plants like goutweed and Japanese knotweed. A few years back, I would cheekily suggest that the caller consider moving, but oh how that bit of sarcasm has come back to bite me on the ass. You see, it’s easy to offer such advice when one’s garden is free of invasive plants. But that is no longer the case. A few years ago I discovered a slumbering patch of goutweed on my own property. For about a decade, it had stayed hidden, biding its time beneath an overgrown cotoneaster, but then two springs ago, I decided to chop back the cotoneaster and with the increased light, the few sprigs of goutweed began to grow. And grow. And GROW!

It has since invaded a beloved shrub and perennial garden where it is weaving its way between clumps of bamboo, conifers and coneflowers. At first, I tried to dig it out, but soon learned that it was pointless unless I hired a backhoe to remove every soil molecule in my backyard. So I’ve become a smotherer. Which means that a portion of my backyard – right beside my deck – has been torn apart and covered in thick sheets of cardboard which will stay in place for at least a year – perhaps two. Lovely.

On the other hand, I could throw in the towel, allow the goutweed to take over this area of the backyard (which is contained between the house and a retaining wall) and concentrate my gardens in other areas. Or, I could eat the enemy! Young goutweed is edible, often used as a spinach-like green in salads and cooked dishes. Bon appetit!

Tara says: I moved into my current house in the late fall. The garden had been tidied up for the season, so the following spring it was fun to see what popped up where. Unfortunately one of those plants that popped up is a weed that I’d never had to deal with before. And I’ve been cursing it ever since. It looks pretty enough at first – delicate little curvy leaves with small, white, trumpet-like flowers that resemble morning glories.

Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) is actually a relative of the lovely blue morning glories one might spot climbing a telephone pole or trellis. But it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, spreading its horrible white roots deep into the soil. There are varying reports of how deep – one article I read said nine feet, another 14 and another said 30 metres! And those delicate leaves become tendrils that wrap around other plants, choking them out like a UFC fighter.

One of my favourite gardening articles of last season was written by Sonia Day for the Toronto Star. The headline read “Bindweed has made me an old BAG” — B.A.G. being an acronym for Bindweed-Afflicted Gardener. Unfortunately I’m a BAG too. I hate how keeping on top of my bindweed infestation takes my attention away from other parts of the garden, but if I don’t want it taking over my yard! Do I bring in a backhoe to excavate or do I concede defeat? I could try solarizing the main afflicted area, but I have a feeling it would be a losing battle…

Jessica says: Sometimes a plant enters your life that just downright pisses you off. Usually it’s because it exhibits some kind of obnoxious behavior, like a too-rowdy-to-be-tolerated growth habit or a fragrance that’s icky or putrid. Well, let me share with you the plant that tops my own “I hate you so much I wish you would just die” list.

Chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata), is also known as Korean ivy, and it exhibits the ultimate trifecta of obnoxiousness (we’ve kindly shown you a photo at the top of this post).

1. It spreads waaaaaay too aggressively.
2. It’s impossible to get rid of.
3. The foliage smells like a middle school locker room. Gag.

I cannot believe that growers still sell this plant, and that people plant it ON PURPOSE. It should come with a warning label because once you have chameleon plant, you will NEVER get rid of it. Don’t ever attempt to dig it out because each little microscopic root piece you leave behind will re-sprout, like a bunch of satanic root cuttings hell-bent on turning you into a gardening Sisyphus, forever digging out the same plant over and over and over and over again for all of eternity. I’m serious. Do not plant this S.O.B. or your life will be ruined, and you’ll want to sacrifice your first born to the devil just to get rid of the stuff.

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10 Responses to Smack-talking weeds: What is the worst in your garden?

  1. Like most gardens, ours has an assortment of nasty weeds….some escapees, some inadvertent introductions.
    One of the worst is Stachys palustris, a minty thug that spreads by underground tuberous stems. Smothering seems to be the only check. It will follow the sun and move as one place gets a bit too shady for its liking. BTW, the background leaves in the pic belong to a clematis ( a rampant Sweet Autumn)

  2. Nugget says:

    The invasive I’m currently battling is English ivy & I agree with Tara: “I hate how keeping on top of my weed infestation takes my attention away from other parts of the garden” – I spend hours pulling ivy out by hand when I really want to be doing other more rewarding chores. I guess I’m in good company!

  3. Daricia McK says:

    I’m laughing at your description of Houttuynia! I think it smells like oranges. And it’s edible…I guess that’s not an option to someone who thinks it smells like a locker room, but maybe you could convince someone else to “harvest” it! Hopefully they won’t like it enough to plant it themselves, though.

    • savvygardening says:

      Yeah, we know it’s edible, but we can’t bring ourselves to even taste the darn stuff. Just can’t get past the stench. Have you eaten it? What does it taste like? Does that smell permeate the kitchen? I suppose we could be convinced to at least taste it….if someone else did the cookin’! 🙂

  4. Sue Gilmore says:

    The 2 most persistent weeds we battle is creeping charlie and Canadian thistle. We put down cardboard all over the garden one year and that has made a world of difference–it hasn’t eradicated them but it cut down the population considerably. We just have to keep up the weeding and do heavy mulching. Any other ideas–I’m all ears! 😀

    • savvygardening says:

      Ugh.. those are some persistent weeds! Niki is doing the cardboard trick to smother her goutweed.. fingers crossed!

  5. Dale says:

    In my garden I have one of the worst noxious weeds on the planet. Horse tail. Like some of your others the root system is extreamly deep and it can grow through most anything. Every little but of root segment can re sprout, The roots are stretchy and spring back into the ground when you try to pull it out. I’ve heard that the roots can be 30 feet long and 10 feet deep. Ugh!

  6. Staci says:

    Sadly in our new gardens, I appear to have the horrible luck to have horse tail fighting for territory with Houttuynia (which is called “fishmint” in asia; apparently a description of its flavor…shudder.) as well as creeping charlie competing with garlic mustard. I’m a bit at wit’s end to get rid of ANY of it. I don’t use weedkillers as I’ve lots of native plants for pollinators. suggestions?

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