Sort Of Coping with Weeds

When we were first looking at this area we saw a lot for sale that had a ramshackle house surrounded by beautiful cottonwoods and plum trees, right down on the edge of Agency Lake. The rest of the lot was an untouched stand of native plants – sagebrush scrub. I didn’t see any of what I think of as weeds. Someone already had an offer on it though so we ended up elsewhere. One day a friend told me that I was not going to like the plans that the new owner had for that lot, and he was right. All of the scrub was bulldozed. And what do you think is there now? Nothing but rabbit brush and weeds.

The official definition of a weed is that it is ‘a plant that is growing where it is not wanted’ This of course, means that you are free to call anything you want, a ‘weed’. I’ve noticed that lots of people call any plant that is not available in a nursery a weed. To my mind this is unfortunate, because there are some really beautiful native plants that would enhance any flower garden, but because they just pop up on their own, they must be weeds.

And then there are the real weeds. Almost always these are introduced plants, that are no doubt lovely in their native habitat, but here have run amok. They target any piece of disturbed land and grow in so thickly that there is no chance for the natives. In some cases they get so invasive that the state labels them a noxious weed.

Some weeds are no doubt lovely in their native habitat

But once you’ve got them over a large area, how do you get rid of them? Possibly the easiest approach, in that it is the quickest to get results, is to mow. The trouble with this approach is that once you’ve committed to a ‘lawn’, then you have to have a watering system, and you have to mow regularly, so it’s quick, but ongoing work forever, and lawns suck up a lot of water.

So this is the problem I have been battling. Part of our lot was graded. I don’t want to water it, I don’t want a lawn there and I don’t want a flower bed there. What I want is for it to revert to native plants. But it is covered in weeds.

It’s too large an area to pull the weeds by hand. I’ve managed to introduce a few natives, mostly by transplanting from other areas where the natives have a better foothold, and then tried to weed whack around the natives. That’s partially successful. I’ve also used Roundup to selectively kill the weeds and spare the natives, but that has not been successful, because I’ve discovered that if you are going to kill weeds you need a plan. No piece of ground is going to stay bare – something will grow there – and if you don’t have a good plan for what that’s going to be then you will end up with worse weeds than you started with.

Killing the weeds and throwing out seeds does not work. The weed seeds still in the ground will germinate faster, and with more vigor, and your seeds won’t stand a chance. This year’s plan then, is to continue the weed whacking dance, and in one area at a time, kill the weeds with Roundup and then immediately plant with native plants. This will require hundreds of plants that will have to be raised from seeds or cuttings and grown up to a big enough size to plant out, and it will require a temporary watering system to see those new plants through their first season in the ground.

Whew, it’s just as well I love to garden! I’m inspired to keep trying by the thought of a maintenance free, watering free, self-sustaining meadow of native bunch grasses, pale blue Phlox, blue Lupine and Penstemmon, Scarlet Gilia, yellow Oregon Sunshine, and a host of other beautiful natives swaying in the breeze.

My vision for my meadow


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