Why do these weeds keep coming back?!

“I weeded – but they came back…I can’t get rid of those weeds…I took out the blackberries, but then I had morning glory everywhere…”

Assorted weeds including English ivy, buttercups, reed canary grass, and English holly in this neglected greenbelt

Sound familiar? We’ve all done it – we tackle a huge bed of weeds, liberate the garden plants and exhausted, pile up the weeds and breathe a sigh. Then, before you know it, there they ARE AGAIN!!! Why?

Here are a few reasons why weeds are, well, Weeds:

  • Weeds “come back” because they never left. There are still either roots or seeds in the soil. When you start weeding after plants have bloomed, it is very likely that you will end up scattering seeds everywhere. Some plants are even capable of ripening seeds on cut flower stalks, even though they have no seeds yet (or the seeds are very green). Then there are the tenacious roots, like morning glory that ALWAYS leave a bit of root behind no matter how carefully you try to tease them out. They sprout from root pieces and off they go again. Even with less insidious rooters, if the top of a plant breaks off, new leaves will frequently sprout from what is left.
  • The seed bank in the soil is a source of new plants. Yes, there is a large store of seeds in the soil – the seed bank (that’s the technical term). Not only do weeds generally produce a very large number of seeds because they are really good at reproduction – early and often – some seeds remain viable for years and even decades. Even though lots of plants do this, weeds have developed persistence to a high art. Not only can they produce a LOT of seeds, the same plant can produce – in the same year – some that germinate quickly and others that don’t germinate till later years. Of course this is a great survival strategy – if this year turns out not to be so great, then there will be seeds that can germinate in later, perhaps better years.
  • The good thing is, if you remove weeds, sometimes there are nice plants underneath that have been waiting for the chance to come back. This does work both ways – removing blackberries often results in some other weed that was suppressed, taking their place, especially if they covered a large area. Then you have a different weed to deal with. You just have to expect it will happen.
  • Weeds return because they are brought in by animals, humans, and weather. Even though you thoroughly clean the garden of weeds, seeds and plant parts, there is still the seed rain – a process whereby stuff literally rains down on your plot of ground. The wind blows seeds, animals carry parts of plants, bury seeds, and poop seeds out. Did you ever notice how some plants pop up right next to a tree trunk? Perching birds digest various berries, and drop the seeds right where they perch. Squirrels cache seeds, and stuff just FALLS when the wind blows. Humans and other animals track seeds and plant parts in on their feet. So you will always have new things coming in.

Those are a few reasons why weeding is never done.

The best way to get ahead of all this weed activity is to WEED SMARTER:

3″ -6″ of arborist chips are heavy enough to suppress weeds in this native planting. Medium bark is good as well and a little more dressy. Fine materials are less useful.
  • Get out there when the weeds are small and the soil is moist. Even if seeds keep sprouting, they won’t get big enough to bloom.
  • Use thick mulch after you clean up – bare ground is begging to be colonized by something, and weeds are specialists at getting the jump on everything else. If they germinate IN the mulch, it’s easy to pull them out. If they germinate UNDER the mulch, it’s more likely they will use up their energy trying to reach the light, and if it’s thick and heavy enough, most won’t make it. Coarse wood chips are best, compost just grows better weeds, so put the chips on top of the compost.
  • Allow some time before you plant again. If you mulch things up well and wait for the resprouts, you can get the second wave, or even a third wave of weeds and substantially reduce the number of weeds that will be around to compete with your chosen plants. BUT YOU HAVE TO COME BACK OFTEN. A really bad area needs to settle down for perhaps a year before planting. Then you don’t have to pull out the new plants with the weeds because they are all entangled.
  • BE VIGILANT. Do not turn your back and leave for months at a time. Just a weekly visit to your garden for a weeding session will reward you with less weeds and less work.
  • Plant evergreens and woody vegetation when possible, and cover most of your ground. In general, shrubs, perennials, groundcovers, and trees together will created a multi-level cover for the ground that will shade out weeds. But leave a little space for birds that like open habitat, and for ground-nesting pollinators and beneficial bees and wasps that need loose sandy or gravelly places with no vegetation.

Weed on!

*Taylor Gardens can help you map your plan of attack if weeds are overwhelming you. Contact Jeanie via the website form we’ll coach you on a weeding program that works for you.

Bees in your backyard

Yellow-faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii is common in western Oregon gardens

“The Western bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis) was extirpated from the Valley near the turn of the last century. However, many species are still abundant and some appear to be thriving. I counted about thirty species in my garden in downtown Springfield in 2018, and that number has grown as I have worked to increase the diversity and abundance of native plants in my yard.”

— The Bees of the Willamette Valley A Comprehensive Guide to Genera, by August Jackson (available here )

In Oregon we are experiencing the same declines as the rest of the world, in pollinators, beneficial insects, and other organisms that are essential to the integrity of the ecosystems that sustain us. Home gardeners, farmers, vineyard and timber land owners can help improve our chances of survival by providing better habitat right where we live. Native plants, combined with appropriate management can bring back diversity and health to your property. Contact us to find out how!

Photo credit: Junkyardsparkle – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50064113

More links and info here: https://www.bentonswcd.org/native-bumble-bees-important-pollinators-willamette-valley/

Low Maintenance Gardening ideas

Ten ideas to save time and garden efficiently while conserving resources

“Low-maintenance” has a charismatic ring to it. It promises less weeding, watering, and other chores that some regard as the equivalent of house work.

There is a distinct possibility that the “low-maintenance” moniker is being bandied about as the latest, best way to garden, save the planet, or both. Biologically sound garden techniques do really reduce work and provide good habitat when properly done. Just know that maintenance is forever!

  1. tip #1:  Choose the right plant for the right place. This mantra is one of the first principles of efficient gardening. Our summer-dry climate west of the Cascades means that besides our own natives, we can use plants native to the Mediterranean, California and other world regions. However, even native plants are low maintenance only if you plant them in conditions to which they are adapted, then water until established (3 years, tapering off in year 3)
  • tip #2:  Continuing with the “right plant, right place” principle, be mindful of the space plants will occupy at maturity. If a plant can grow into a space reserved for it, you won’t have to constantly to keep it smaller than it wants to be. When in doubt, measure the space; fill in gaps with annuals or plants you can easily move later when things mature.
  • tip #3:  Just because you CAN shear, doesn’t mean you HAVE to.  Reduce effort, and your carbon footprint, by dispensing with landscapes that require shearing, mowing, blowing, and transporting debris. You can still have a hedge – use plants that need little or no pruning/shearing
  • tip #4 You can have some grass – reduce the size and mow it with a push mower, mulch the clippings and sweep up by hand – more exercise, less time at the gym! And hey – you might discover interesting things going on in your garden, up close and quietly.
  • tip #5  Before installing plants, start at the roots, so to speak. Soil is the foundation of productivity and health in the garden. Water conservation and lower maintenance is wholly dependent on healthy soil. Organic matter is the best thing you can add to any soil. Organisms and processes at work that keep our plants healthy are still being discovered – read about one at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/sep02/soil0902.htm
  • tip #5:  Plant properly. When the time comes to put plants in the ground, avoid pot-shaped rootballs that can’t grow properly by gently separating the roots and making sure there are no sharp boundaries between different soil layers by mixing the soil around the roots. Badly planted shrubs and trees will suffer – sometimes for years – and require extra water and maintenance (if they survive). Tree planting is a subject unto itself. More here.
  • tip #6:  Establish the right mix of plants. Covering the vertical as well as horizontal space in your garden is the best way to short-circuit weed life cycles and mimic natural processes. In vegetable or ornamental gardens, plants at various heights will shade the ground, offer shelter to beneficial organisms, and reduce weeding, watering and pest control. Diversity in the garden equals water and resource conservation. On the flip side, do not overcrowd your plants (a little bare soil will afford valuable native ground-nesting bees a home); if roots are too crowded, they will compete for water and nutrients to the detriment of all.
  • tip # 7   Plant when the soil is naturally moist, for optimum root development. In the maritime Pacific Northwest, fall planting enables roots to take advantage of warm soil and rainfall, to grow deeper and support the whole plan when demand is low from above-ground parts. Late winter and early spring is a good choice too. Deep roots, combined with good soil and surface mulch will use available water efficiently.
  • Tip #8 Water Correctly!  First, check the soil to see if it’s dry in the root zone. If you need to apply water, water during the early morning or when it’s cloudy. This will slow down evaporation. Know your soil. Sometimes watering sandy soils requires a sprinkler, otherwise soaker hoses might be more efficient. After water has had time to soak in, check the root zone. Rule of thumb: one inch of water per week during the growing season. Remember that mature, well-chosen perennials, shrubs and trees need less of everything, and you might only need to water once a month, or not at all. New plants need more, and more frequent watering for shallow roots.

What’s an inch of sprinkler irrigation? Get out the tuna can, put it where you’re watering, turn on the sprinkler, look at the clock – when there’s an inch in the can, that’s how long it takes to put an inch where the sprinkler is. You might want to put 1/2 inch on twice a week. It depends on soil and sun exposure.

  • Tip #9Learn proper pruning technique or ask a professional to do it periodically. It will save a ton of work. Any pruning should be for the health of the plant, and for early training; not because the plant is too large, or “it’s spring so it must be time to prune everything”. If you don’t know what to cut, leave your plants alone; that’s better than making uninformed decisions. This will mean the difference between unwieldy, nasty-looking plants that seem to fight you for control every year, and nice-looking plants that can grow to their full ornamental potential in their own space.
  • tip #10:  Evergreens help keep the garden looking alive during summer drought and winter dormant season; they can also cover and shade a lot of ground.

Here are some faves:

California lilac (Ceanothus spp.)

California wax myrtle (Morella (formerly Myrica) californica) Salal (Gaultheria shallon)

Alpine water fern (Blechnum penna-marina)

Himalayan maidenhair fern (Adiantum venustum)

Leathery polypody (Polypodium scouleri)

Evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)

*Non-dwarf Ceanothus commonly grow surprisingly tall and wide, so be prepared to leave enough room for them to expand.

Pt. Reyes Ceanothus (Ceanothus gloriosus) is a cultivar of a low growing west coast native that prefers full sun and dry soil conditions.