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Waging War with Invasives

I have been pulling weeds this week, because with all the rain and warmer weather, they are trying to take over the world. It is a battle. I once read that a weed is any plant in the wrong place. That's a liberal definition, but it goes to the heart of the matter. I may pull out a plant that doesn't belong in my garden, but probably there is some place on earth that would welcome the specimen. It is all about context. 

For example: Most folks consider dandelion a weed. But in a rural setting, perhaps beneath old apple trees, wouldn't a field of dandelions be gorgeous? Wild violets and oxalis are welcome in my natural garden, but they might be out of place in someone's formal rose bed.

Could this oxalis be a weed?Moss is considered a weed in many places. Moss? I love moss, and I treasure the moss paths in my woodland garden:

Morning light shines across the moss path in the woodland garden.

There are some weeds that don't belong near my garden, but that is my opinion and not theirs. These are weeds that burn or sting or cause itching and blisters. Or invasive weeds that are so out of control they strangle everything in their paths.

Unfortunately, for years we have been fighting battles against several invasive plants. The lady who built my house almost sixty years ago loved English ivy and put a few sprigs out here and there, according to her grandson. That ivy has taken over a good section of the woods, where it climbs high into the trees and smothers everything on the ground. I have no hope of winning the battle in the woods, though sometimes Lou goes out with a machete and cuts it from around the base of trees. But I have drawn a line where my woodland garden begins.

Not one inch farther. You stop here.

I chop it and spray it, but if I turn my back it will grab me by the ankles and pull me under. English ivy is mean stuff. I have heard that vinca is invasive. Vinca major once grew as a ground cover in a section of the woods, beneath dogwood and pine trees and a huge magnolia, and I always thought its starry blue flowers in the spring were delightful. No more. I woke up one spring morning a few years ago and realized the ivy had conquered the vinca. So I know who the real bully is.

On the other side of my house, on a steep slope overlooking a valley, I have another invasive plant growing, perhaps the South's most notorious weed. That is kudzu. Kudzu was imported from Japan and was widely planted in the southeastern USA in the 1930s and 1940s to fight soil erosion. It did a good job, and it now turns forests, old buildings, and telephone poles into giant fanciful topiaries. Every year Lou cuts back the kudzu, and we keep a careful eye on it. 

We won't win, unless we spray the whole place with agent orange or else bulldoze it and cover it over with concrete. (Is that winning?) The ivy and the kudzu wait for our demise. If my house were abandoned, the ivy would come from one direction and the kudzu from the other, and the two would meet on the roof to wage war for control.

A third invasive plant grows behind the house, on the other side of a large gravel parking court. This is bamboo:Look closely and you can see stumps where Lou has cut back the bamboo. The ground cover beneath it is English ivy, which strangely does not climb the bamboo.Bamboo is a grass, and it is a pretty monster. Biltmore Estate in North Carolina has a bamboo grove along a picturesque stream. The bamboo has room to spread, and it is lovely in its setting. My bamboo wants to sprout in the vegetable garden and beneath cars in the parking area, and this is another chore for Lou and his machete. I can see the bamboo one day reaching into the broken windows of our dilapidated house, while the kudzu and ivy snarl overhead.

But not today. For now I have a sturdy house and a garden of delights. There is one plant that spreads each year that is not a weed at all. Though they are not yet in full bloom, I paused from battling weeds long enough to take photos. A thousand yellow daffodils, dancing in the light:

Ten days till spring!


You may also like Weed War and Weed War: part two.

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Reader Comments (18)

That's often how I feel about our French Broom...a nuclear device detonated in the garden wouldn't eradicate the stuff. We do what we can though. I must say, I'm so grateful we don't have Kudzu though...that's perhaps the most notorious of all North American invasive weeds. Your daffodils are truly dazzling. I can only hope that ours will naturalize that well over the coming years. What a lovely sight!

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

Dear Deborah, It is very true. One man's meat is another man's poison. That said, there are some plants which one would, on balance, prefer to be without. Ivy is a nuisance particularly when it gets a hold and I really do not like to see it climbing up into trees where it can, if not checked, cause damage. Vinca major I feel less strongly about.

I loved the picture of the morning light through your woodland with the mossy paths. Most inviting!

Sadly, I do not share your view on a mass of dandelions - all that brash and harsh yellow. But, as I began, each to his [or her] own!

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEdith Hope

Hi, Deborah ~ I enjoyed your post. The only thing that is green in our neighborhood are the weeds. :/ Nut sedge is a problem where we live. It drives me nuts. When they become invasive it gets so frustrating. If she had only known those sprigs of ivy would take over the wooded area.... You have so many daffodils and they are beautiful!

Ohhhhhh! The sight of the daffodils brought tears to my eyes. So beautiful, they are one invasive(I wish) plant everyone would want. How many have you planted Deborah?
I do have some vinca in my garden, but it is very well behaved. However, I have seen it growing on the edge of the woodland and it smothers native plants. Not good!

You need a bulldozer and a bush hog mower; a machete is not enough for those thugs! Three of the worst.

Looks as if you have a lot of Ice Follies, one of my favs. Can you see them from your window?

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNell Jean

I, too, love moss and try to spread it around whenever and wherever I can! And your daffodils are absolutely beautiful ... how many years? I have a few just starting to peek through. I happen to think that Oxalis is pretty - someone else might not. You are right. I am on a native plant spree so I tend to see flowers instead of weeds. Also interesting to me is that some weeds may actually help improve the soil if you let them grow along side your vegetables ... or that you can tell the condition of your soil by the weeds that grow there. There isn't a house in the village where I live without a Barberry - invasive here and spread by birds. Although the birds eat the berries the point is that it has an advantage over native habitat that supports more than just the birds. Pick your battles. Great post.

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterthevioletfern

You have some pretty tough ones to contend with. Luckily we don't need a machete for anything here, although our neighbor has planted both ivy and vinca along the fence line. One leaf that crosses over to my yard gets yanked along with any roots that I can get. It's too bad years ago that people didn't know how bad English ivy or Kudzu would get.
I have an Oxalis that looks very similar to yours. Oxalis crassipes and it's not invasive at all for me. It grows in clumps and is easy to remove.
The Daffodils are beautiful! Let them spread all they want :)

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Your Daffodils are quite spectacular ! The Bamboo stems make fantastic plant stakes . The Dandelion is all edible the leaves for salad and the roots make tea. The Kudzu leaves make great biomass for composting. It is actually edible too but with so many poisons that have been sprayed to eradicate it I wouldn't want to try it.

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersanddune

Hi Deb, beautiful pictures - lovely. Just this morning I was thinking about invasive plants. I think we earn the bit of earth we help make into a garden. I tell friends plant it, mulch it, cover it or the weeds will come. What a battle - Last night and this morning we had another snow storm, so I have yet to enter my fun battle. G

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGloriaBonde

Oh, the battles. You captured the desperation so well. I have multiflora rose, autumn olive, bittersweet and poison ivy, but my warfare is the same as yours. Just wish I had a machete wielding Lou.

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Oh no Deborah - you are going to fill my dreams with garden thugs pulling apart the house! I too have ivy and bamboo (sneaking in from next door). I'm not familiar with kudzu, and I'm glad of it!

March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

I laughed so hard at the image of you getting pulled into a thicket of ivy, BY the ivy LOL. I'd probably not be laughing if I had an ivy problem though...I don't dare plant that outside. O_O Same thing with vinca...I do enjoy it, but in container plantings only. I do have very invasive wild garlic that has taken over my lawn. Do you have any Agent Orange I can borrow? :P

March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKyna Adams

I love bamboo, but have avoided it because of its invasive nature. I'm currently at war with ivy, and my neighbours! You can kill ivy, apprently, but you get in trouble for killing your neighbours!

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Idiot Gardener

I've been weeding the *&%# mustard. Drives me crazy but I am hellbent on eradicating it. I love your pics of daffodils!

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiza

That bamboo looks like a ton of work... pretty though!

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDirty Girl Gardening

How wonderful your garden is, seem endless. Your weeds like the daffodils is an envy for others who still plant them to view their beauty, yours is free flowing. How lovely part of the earth you are privilege to be in. thank you

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea in this Lifetime

I just love your daffodils, Deb. So many of them! Did you plant them all, over a period of time? Just gorgeous!

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJan (ThanksFor2Day)

Our battle here is Japanese Bamboo Grass it grows everywhere and takes over every garden unless we pull, pull and pull. I heard the seed base can last 5 to 10 years and it seeds when it can. The other is mimosa trees once one starts to grow you need to dig it out, just dug 2 foot deep to get rid of some 1 inch saplings, hope i got it all.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRandy

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