June 3, 2013

Tackle weeds bit by bit

By JOLENE WALLACE, Cornell Cooperative Extension

---- — On Sunday mornings, my husband usually fixes us a delicious breakfast.

He does the cooking, and I make the toast. As I was buttering our toast last Sunday, I starting thinking about weeds in my flower beds.

Toast crumbs in the butter and weeds in the flower bed seem to have the same effect on me. They mar the image I have of how things should be.

Butter is good stuff, especially on fresh sweet corn, but toast crumbs make it less appealing. Fortunately, you can take them out easily enough and return the butter to its original state.

You can do the same with weeds in your garden, whether it’s a vegetable or flower garden, but it’s more difficult, of course. First, toast crumbs don’t grow and take over the butter dish. Weeds can multiply and spread while you’re eating dinner, taking a shower or sleeping at night. That’s their nature, so we have to outwit them whenever we can or surrender to them.

I usually try to outwit them, but it’s a challenge. One of the ways I entertain myself while digging weeds is to count how many different kinds I have and pretend the number is so high because my soil is great. It’s small consolation but better than none.

With my nemesis, vetch, I take a different approach. Vetch is attractive if you don’t mind it vining around everything that doesn’t move out of its way.

One morning my dog, Ollie, wasn’t following me around like he usually does, and I started listening for muffled barking noises. Fortunately, he had gone inside.

Vetch has a root system that has to be seen to be believed. It runs horizontally under the ground and breaks pretty easily, so I challenge myself to see how long a root I can pull before it breaks. My personal best is 23 inches.

I have yet to get to the end of a vetch root, but I always enjoy a challenge. If you see me bent over and crab-walking sideways, you’ll know what I’m doing.

I admit that on occasion I have surrendered to the weeds. I have a perennial bed in the front of my house that, over the past four years, I have filled with things I really like.

One of those things is creeping phlox. A blanket of colorful, low-growing flowers in the spring is delightful - except when it gets full of grasses that have no business in a flower bed.

The first year that the grasses invaded my phlox, I dug up the whole mess, teased the grass out and replanted the phlox. The following year, I did the same thing.

This year, I dug up the whole mess and chucked it. There comes a time when the effort spent is not worth the reward.

If there were that many toast crumbs in my butter, I would chuck that too.


June is New York State Forest Pest Awareness Month, and the focus is on two pests that have the potential to cause great harm to our forests and landscape trees: the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorned beetle.

Our Master Gardener volunteers are doing a free program on Wednesday, June 12, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Chazy Library on Fiske Road and invite you to attend. RSVP to 561-7450.

I will be at the Plattsburgh Farmers Market on Saturday, June 15 from 9 a.m. until noon with information about what you can do to protect trees.

We need all eyes watching in order to minimize the damage from these beetles. You can also contact me to have information sent to you or to arrange a presentation for your town or group.

Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or