Featured Newsletter Article
from the Summer 2016 issue
Invaders: Plants to Avoid in Your Garden
As small-scale urban farmers, we need to be aware of what grows in our plots, whether it’s intentionally or unintentionally. Invasive plants/weeds can threaten our carefully tended plots, reducing our vegetable yields and annoying our neighbors. Weeds, according to Wikipedia, are plants that are considered undesirable in a particular situation, a plant in the wrong place. Weeds look for disturbed soil and take advantage of the optimal conditions that we provide in our gardens such as frequent watering and fertilizing.
By most definitions, invasive plants tend to: produce large numbers of new plants each season, rampantly spread when they are free of the natural checks and balances in their native range, tolerate many soil types and weather conditions, and grow rapidly allowing them to displace the slower-growing plants. In this article I will discuss a number of local weeds and invaders that I have come across at FBGA in recent years which, when I was a new gardener at FBGA, I mistakenly let grow and multiply in my garden.
My first year, I saw a vine growing that looked like a volunteer cucumber or squash. I decided to see what came of it. Soon it began taking over the whole fence and spread onto the ground, covering my veggies that were growing nearby. The little white flowers were not coming to fruit, making me suspicious. Soon this plant was suffocating almost everything that I had planted and spreading more each day. Two more experienced gardeners on my row came over and told me that I better get rid of that vine if I wanted to salvage anything from my garden. I didn’t know that it was the burcumber, an invasive vine that thrives and produces at least 250 seeds a plant. It covers vegetables and reduces yields. After receiving the warning from my fellow gardeners, I tore it right down. Now when I see it growing in a new gardener’s plot, I point it out right away. The new gardener invariably says, “I was waiting to see what came of it, whether it was a cucumber or squash.”
Another mistake I made was a patch of spearmint I saw growing in the corner of my new garden. I love mint tea and like to add it to yogurt. Little did I know that the little patch was sending out underground runners all over my 10 by 20 plot. By midsummer it was cropping up everywhere. I tried to dig it up deeply and as much as I could, but I saw that these white root runners had spread everywhere. And no matter how hard I tried to eliminate the mint, they came right back the next year. So if you must plant mint, do so in big pots and check the hole at the bottom to make sure the roots aren’t trying to sneak out. Morning glory is a vine that is can have pink, blue white flowers (and other colors.) It’s common on the fences at FBGA. The problem is that it will cover your desirable bushes and vines, and casts many, many seeds. You will then have it every season from here on in. Pull it out when you first see its heart shaped leaves popping out of the ground. A version of morning glory with white flowers, known as field bindweed, is even worse. It grows from roots, underground rhizomes, and stem pieces making it extremely difficult to eradicate because any little piece left in the soil will regenerate into a new plant, just like spearmint. Callaloo is a vegetable popular in the Caribbean. It can be sautéed in some delicious dishes. However, it spreads easily by seed, coming back every year and all over your garden. So if you aren’t interested in cooking with it, pull it out. Lemon sorrel is a lemony tasting green that comes up early in the spring. It is commonly used in Eastern Europe in salad and shav, a cold soup. It is a perennial plant that returns yearly and spreads. It has a seed plume that will cast its seeds all around the garden. I remove the plumes, but it is an almost impossible task as the plumes will reform. Lemon Sorrel will come up everywhere, and if you like it, then you won’t mind – but your neighbors might! Arugula is also somewhat invasive. Its little yellow and white flowers form seeds that will spread everywhere in your garden. You will never need a seed pack of arugula again! I have arugula growing all over my plot, and am constantly pulling it out, harvesting it and giving plants away, year after year. Raspberries are delicious to munch on while doing your gardening chores, but unless you plant a cultured variety that is more contained, it is a very invasive bush. My raspberry bush spreads everywhere in my garden through underground runners. It pops up in my vegetable beds and jumps under the fence to grow in my neighbors’ gardens. Luckily my neighbors don’t mind, but no matter how much I try to cut it back and contain it, the raspberry bush just comes up everywhere. So beware of the raspberry!
Horseradish is a perennial plant that likely originated in Eastern Europe and was also known as “kreyn.” The root is used to make the condiment of the same name. The main root is harvested after the leaves die off in the fall. The smaller roots are used for next year’s plant! The recipe consists of the grated root, cooked beet, salt and vinegar, and sometimes sugar added. The leaves can be used in soups or pickling recipes. Now, let’s get down to its invasive quality! The roots will spread all over your garden, so if you can contain it in a planter that would be best. I went to a workshop where FBGA’s president Adriann Musson, referred to the plants that often puzzle/surprise us. She said “If you didn’t plant it, pull it!” Great advice for keeping your garden and your neighbors’ free of unwanted invasive plants!