Clearing the Weeds

What I call my front yard is a patch of land that is about twenty-six feet wide and about six feet deep. That’s it. That’s my land; it is mine to weed and cultivate.

It’s never been a good patch of land. When we moved in, it had a scraggly lawn and some container gardens and a dead area where a small boat was stored. There was a Norway maple tree, owned by the city, which shaded the front yard and tried to make the land into a Norway maple forest.

Round one: the weeds when we moved in.

In the first three or four years of living here, we found plants that would survive living under a Norway maple. It was trial and error. The soil was full of tree root, which makes it dry all the time. The land was shaded. I tried lots of plants that I liked the look of. Most made it a year or two, then died of dehydration or light deprivation.

Most of what survived was either outright invasive in its own right, or just the kind of plant that pushes any other plant out of the way. By year five or six, my garden was a verdant patch that was fun to look at. But, in truth, there was a battle for supremacy happening among invasive species.

The ones that I planted:

Goutweed: We planted variegated goutweed, before it was identified as invasive. It’s a rather nice plant. It has a two-tone leaf and a flower that looks like Queen Anne’s Lace. Pollinators love it. It lived well under the maple tree. About five years after it was planted, it was killing every other plant in the garden. By this year, it had taken over about 20 percent of the land.

Orange Day lilies: We transferred some lilies from my brother’s house in Connecticut. They did well in my garden. Welp. They’re invasive, too. They are not even liked by pollinators.

Black-eyed Susan: What started as a few plants became about twenty percent of the garden. You know, I didn’t mind that a bit. They spilled all over the cracks in the stone around the flower bed. They are a riot of color all summer and into the fall. The bugs love them. I was OK with that.

Sweet Autumn Clematis: I had so much fun with this plant. The pollinators loved it, especially because it blooms late and feeds them into November. Every spring I would cut it back to about three feet, then train it to grow on fishing line in different configurations. Every year, it grew about 15-20 feet. It’s invasive. It started popping up new vines all over my yard.

I planted clover. It didn’t do well enough to become invasive. There were also some ground covers that are invasive, too. I don’t even know their names.

Round Two. The Volunteers

The friendly ones:

We got some random asters that I didn’t plant. They were sort of scraggly looking. They bloom late and are good for the bees. So, we let them be.

There were a number of flowers that came and spread. Violets and a blue-and-purple trumpet flower were our favorites of these. They didn’t mind the conditions and did no harm, so they stayed.

We have dandelions, but a surprisingly few of them. We let them be, too. But, they didn’t like living under the maple.

The evil interloper weeds:

Not only do we have a Norway maple trying to turn the front of the house into a Norway maple forest, we also have ailanthus trees trying to turn the back of the house into an ailanthus forest. Our next door neighbor has catalpa trees, which exploit the same holes in the asphalt to sprout baby trees. Our house sits between these warring root networks that we will never see. I pull up little trees all spring, summer, and fall.

Over the past ten or fifteen years, I have been doing battle with black swallow wort (BSW). It first showed up along my fence (coming up through the asphalt). Then, it began to do its thing along the edge of my garden. Its roots were cleverly protected by the stones lining the flowerbed. By the 2015, it was all-out war.

What happened in 2023

In 2022, we were out of town for a chunk of July and August. The invasives got to run amok. Then in the spring of 2023, the maple was cut down by the city. This totally changed the environment of the flowerbed. There was full sunlight and no Norway maple chemicals raining down on it.

In the early spring, 2023, I hired someone to dig out the big areas where invasives were rooted:s pecifically, the area of goutweed and the edges full of BSW. He planned to go for infested areas; therefore, he needed to see what was there. I left the garden unweeded, waiting for him. He ghosted me.

Desperate times, desperate measures:

Fast forward to July. The goutweed is four feet high and killing the lilies and irises. The black swallow wort (BSW) is going to pod. I pulled the BSW, then hired someone to dig out the whole bed. I covered it with plastic to dehydrate and bake any roots left behind.

I replant in the spring.

Any advice?


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