Tag Archives: weed control

Things I learned in 2013

I’ve been here four years now, going on five, the longest that I’ve ever lived in one place since I left here as a teen to go to college.  The result is that I’m finally witnessing the long-term results of my landscaping efforts. Many of my installations are at least three years along, and I’ve had plenty of time to see what works and what doesn’t.

1. Use landscape fabric for walkways, and any other place that shouldn’t become a weedy mess.

Above  - looks nice at first (left), but later becomes a weed-infested mess (right). I am now taking up all of the stone (about 1 yard), all of the gravel (2 yds) and replacing with landscape fabric, bark, and pole timber.

2. Deer fencing should keep out the bucks that jump as well as the fawns that crawl beneath. Therefore, it must be a solid barrier at least 6 ft high. And a frightened deer can run through plastic mesh like it wasn’t there so a few rounds of wire are necessary too.

 Cute, but they can get through anything.

3. Absolutely every stick of native plant that I buy from Pierce Conservation District must be protected from deer with fencing or mesh. To do otherwise means that all of my red-osier dogwood, red-flowering currant, cedar, and other plants will be browsed down to maintain a permanent stature of about 2 feet.

Protected willow cutting I propagated over the summer.

4. For many shrubs, fast results require soil enrichment. American highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus  var. americanum), for instance, will remain three feet tall unless planted in an enriched soil environment. The difference is about four feet in two years.

Above left – Viburnum growing in a cedar stump that acts like a nurse log; Above right - plants of the same age in more compacted soil along the driveway.

5. My favorite shrubs are the ones that have fall and winter color – they carry me through the grey northwest winters.

Cherry trees from North Carolina – planted from seed 38 years ago. They now freely reseed themselves.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) - everyone should have this plant.

6. When in doubt, plant fern. Here, they are freely available (I speak of the native sword fern), grow about anywhere that is not too wet, and give year ’round green cover.

 Native sword fern fills in where I have removed blackberry vines.

 

Accessorize with colored ferns like Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn fern) which take on a yellow-orange color in winter.

Not  my yard, but wish it was.

7. Improved soil = improved growth = fewer weeds. I now buy mulch for trees and shrubs.  Also starting with larger stock helps save a few years. My gardening resolution for the year is to purchase more large trees and shrubs of the sort that I acquired in December (15 ft plus). However, I will expand my propagation efforts too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I don’t use herbicides

I refuse to use herbicides for weed control, and here is why.

 

Pacific Chorus Frog, aka Pacific Tree Frog (Pseudacris regilla) stuck to a window
Tree frog in my plastic greenhouse.

As a master gardener trainee, and as a student of horticulture at a local community college, I was consistently presented with the idea of Integrated Pest Management. The IPM approach does not eschew the use of pesticides and herbicides, but it encourages alternative approaches to their use. This implicitly acknowledges the dangers of improper use or overuse, and reading between the lines, may be some acknowledgement of the dangers of even proper use.

I admit to using pesticides in the case of treating buildings for termites and carpenter ants. But then, with proper maintenance, this would not be so much of an issue. In the garden, I may use Deadline for slugs although I am considering quitting this habit as well.

I’ve never felt the need to use herbicides because in my previous small urban garden plots, I never needed them.

Now, I face a weed control issue of magnanimous proportions. I’ve got everything here: reed canary grass,  English ivy, scotch broom, and various grasses and weeds that invade my new beds and exponentially increase my maintenance work.

My place is also a home for hundreds if not thousands of tree frogs. These tiny amphibians start out life in lake and surrounding wetlands, but during the summer, the explore the upland areas as well, and can be found hundreds of feet from water on the warmest days. Mowing and weed-whacking become a challenge as I attempt to dodge the little green hoppers that fly out of the grass before me.

Herbicides are often used in the PNW for reed canary grass control. This invasive grass is generally found in moist areas and can destroy entire wetlands by distributing its creeping rhizomes to form a nearly impermeable mat. I’ve seen the damage myself, and seen small water courses otherwise useful for fish completely filled by this introduced grass. Yet several studies have found that at least one common herbicide has the potential to kill tadpoles on contact and may affect other elements of aquatic ecosystems, including oxygen levels and even predator-prey interactions.

I would vote for patience over parsimony in most any case for which herbicide offers a quick solution. I mow and pull the reed canary grass on my land, and have considered deploying black plastic to kill back other populations long enough to use interplanting to shade it out. Agencies with short fiscal timelines will often advocate broad-use applications of herbicides to get more immediate results. Many will argue the long-term effects are minimal. Yet I would argue that there is plenty we don’t know about the comprehensive impacts of the chemicals that we use. Studies of biodiversity and chemical controls suggest that we may be altering our ecosystems in ways we don’t completely understand (e.g. http://www.moraybeedinosaurs.co.uk/neonicotinoid/Pesticides_and_the_loss_of_biodiversity.pdf). Instead, we are left wondering why our frog populations are disappearing. One species may not have an effect noticeable to us, but that is because we usually aren’t looking.

The Pacific tree frog is, in my years of observations, the most common frog out here. In fact, I don’t see any other frog species on the island and usually only tree frogs elsewhere around the Puget Sound. What will fill its place?

Casual use of herbicides by homeowners, or even as a primary tool for habitat restoration, may not be worth the cost. The stakes aren’t high enough if the goal is to save time and reduce labor.  I’d rather keep the frogs.