Archive for ‘Plant Biology 101’

June 24, 2011

Weeds and leaves – cont.

After I published my last post, I realized I forgot to mention one more thing about weeds.  Sometimes, we inadvertently plant them.

The past few years I’ve been putting straw on my veggie beds to keep the moisture in and keep the weeds down.  This year, it backfired.

When buying/sourcing straw there are a couple of key things to keep in mind. First, you want straw, not hay… hay is for horses.  Hay is green and food for animals.  Straw is  grain that has  already been harvested and only the stalks are left to dry. Second, make sure the straw is “seed free”.  In other words, no seeds mixed in with the stalks. We were told this load was “seed free or that there should be very few seeds in it” (red flag #1).  We did notice a few seeds when we originally unloaded the straw (red flag #2), but since he said there would be “very few” I spread it out not paying attention to every piece of straw that hit the beds (foolish flag #3).  Apparently I should have.  After the 40 days and 40 nights of rain that we just had I went out to the garden today to find a little surprise.  The straw is growing!  Now, I not only have tomatoes, onions, peppers, kale, etc.  I also have grain (I’ve yet to do plant ID on it or I’d be more specific) growing in-between the other plants.  When I first saw the shoots I thought perhaps it was just a coincidence and some seeds had blown into the garden, gotten carried by the birds, what have you.  That was until I looked at the small pile of straw I had yet to spread throughout my other veggie bed…

“Weeds” in the straw

So, lesson learned.  Be extremely cautious in the future.  Seeds + water + sunlight = sprouts (whether you planted them there or not).

Oh, and another note about seeds and leaves that I omitted earlier.  Not all seeds produce 2 leaves.  Most do, and those that do are called “dicots” (di = two; cot = cotyledon/seed leaf), there is also a group of plants that only produce one leaf, they are called… you guessed it, “monocots” (mono = one; cot = cotyledon).  Corn, grasses, grains and daylilies are all monocots and, as previously posted in Weeds and Leaves, plants are hard to ID by their seed leaves, even harder when they are monocots!  I can pretty much guarantee I won’t be leaving these to see what they turn into though.  Well, maybe.  At least not in the bed between the other plants. Yeah, probably not.

Your humble, ever-learning gardener


June 24, 2011

Weeds and leaves

Whether you’re a veggie gardener, flower gardener or a lawn lover you will find yourself weeding at some point through the season.  Ever since I was a kid I remember hearing people complaining about weeds and weeding their gardens.  At a very young age, I learned what weeding was all about.  My mom would send me out back to weed the veggie garden.  Oh, man!!! Why did I tell her I was bored?!? What was I thinking?  I’d drag myself out to the garden, sit on the edge of the bed and start in.  I consider this to have been my first Plant ID class. (This is also when I snacked on everything in the garden!)

If you’re going to weed a garden, you definitely need to know what to pull and what to keep.  If you’re not sure, leave it a few days or a week (or longer if necessary) until you can identify what it is.  Once you’ve got your plant ID down or at least know what the plants you put there are “supposed to look like”, the rest would be considered “weeds” (a.k.a. – any plant in a place you don’t want it).

I used the “leave it” method on a plant in my backyard a couple of years ago.  When I first noticed it, it wasn’t very big, but I wasn’t sure what it was. It was in a very bad spot in my flowerbed, but I was too curious to pull it.  By the time it got to be 7 feet tall (I kid you not) it had multi-lobed leaves and strongly resembled Mary J. except that I don’t have any experience growing that so I couldn’t say for sure one way or the other.  So I waited, curious to see what it would “do”.  Finally, near the end of the summer, it blossomed. Since the bloom was so far above my head, I may be short-changing it, but it ended up with a little, non-showy cluster of nondescript flowers.  Then, it got pulled.

Before you start weeding, I should back up a moment… make sure you know what you planted and what it looks like in each stage of growth.  Most seeds start with 2 cotyledon/seed leaves.  Seed leaves are made using energy stored within the seed and don’t have much character, so it makes it really hard to tell plants apart at this stage.  It’s not until they develop their 2nd set of leaves, their “true leaves”, that plant ID really becomes possible and weeding becomes safe.  As a side note, some plants will also have juvenile leaves which won’t look like their seed leaves or their mature leaves.  This can sometimes trip you up a little, but once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll be fine.

The best time to weed is after a lot of rain or after you’ve watered.  This makes the soil loosen up and allows weeds to come out by the root, which is always the goal.  It’s not always possible, but when it is, try not to just snap off the top or the root will just regenerate new top growth and you’ll literally end up weeding the same plant over and over again.

That’s it for now.

More edible weeds to come.