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

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All gardeners are faced with pernicious weeds from time to time, and the Savvy Gardening experts are no different. Here are some of the worst experiences we’ve ever faced with weeds… and how we tackled them (or at least tried to!).

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 high 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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17 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?

  7. Alison says:

    My weed nemesis is creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) and I have been battling it since I moved into this house. My first garden season here was 2012. I have dug and redug the flower beds and veggie turned strawberry patch, I have yanked, pulled, and tried to catch every bit of root.
    I swear it just giggles and pops right back up.

  8. Jane says:

    I would rather deal with any of the above rather than the chameleon plants. A neighbor gave me a couple years ago that have multiplied ten thousand fold. When I next see her I am going to ask “why would you ever give this to someone?”. She must hate me is all I can think of. This plant is stressing me out so much. There is NO way to get rid of it unless you want to dedicate your life to it.

    • We hear you on the frustrations of chameleon plant. And its smell is awful, too! Wish we had some good news on how to eradicate it, but that’s a tough one. Constant top-removal and smothering it with a layer of cardboard topped with mulch may be your best bet.

  9. Jan Shortt says:

    I have a lot of goutweed that I actually planted…the side yard was so shady and nothing would grow. It’s quite pretty and I do keep it under control by mowing where I want. Yes, it is invasive but smothering does help – I just keep pulling it out and spraying if it gets too obnoxious. And yes, backhoeing the yard is the only real surefire way to get rid of it. It grows in the forest next to my house which is where I got it from…. There is a small area though that it won’t grow in and I’d love to know why…..but just planted a fern and hosta instead. I watch the fight between the Lily-of-the-Valley and the weed and wonder who will win….

  10. Jen says:

    I’ve dealt with Creeping Charlie, and Goutweed in our yard but Japanese Knotweed is taking the cake.

    The knotweed has travelled 15-20 underground across my neighbours yard and right into my vegetable garden this spring. I am not really sure what to do. We haven’t had this weed before and I am worried my vegetables that are already established in the bed will be soon smothered out. If you have any ideas or tips of what I should do, please tell me!

  11. Chris says:

    Japanese bittersweet is horrible! Started along my fence from the birds. Now everywhere. I don’t like to use Roundup but don’t know what else to do. I cut and yank it but the orange roots are everywhere.

  12. Kathy Harvie says:

    I am battling horsetail in a garden. We put a layer of cardboard and some mulch on it last fall, in the spring it was back again. Tried the cardboard and more mulch, and it was growing thru that too, but not as much of it. Going to keep the cardboard and mulch to it twice a year, and in a couple of years it should be smothered, I hope.

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