Gardening: Get to the root of the problem with weeds

According to the Oxford Dictionary a weed is” A wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants” Gardeners remove weeds by pulling, digging and spraying.

Seeds move from place to place with the wind, catching on animal’s, humans clothing, vehicle tires or by entering an animal’s or birds digestive tract as food and leaving as part of the feces. Unlike other modes of transportation, a trip through a digestive tract often removes the protective layer that keeps a seed dormant resulting in quick germination.

Gardens that are frequented by wild critters including birds often find new plants growing in flowerbeds, under trees and around feeders.

Regardless as to how the new plant arrives, the gardener’s first task is to identify the plant. Once identified learn the plants growing habits. How large will it grow? How fast will it spread? Should it be kept of pulled?

Once established will the plant become aggressive and take over the area. Plants like Solomon’s Seal, Fire Weed and wild mint can quickly take over a flowerbed. If it has been a struggle to keep this area planted and looking good this could be a blessing. In a well-manicured areas, weedy plants quickly become a problem.

Weeds, unwanted plants, should be removed as soon as possible. Plants left to their own devices, spread and reproduce. When weeds are removed and disposed of before they go to seed it, reduces the number of weeds to be removed later. Seeds can and do remain dormant in the soil for decades.

Removing weeds before they have a chance to establish roots is beneficial especially in plant varieties that spread by underground rhizomes. An aggressive plant spreading by rhizomes can easily send shoots outwards covering a 3 feet (.9 m) diameter within a season.

Aggressive plants do have a place in the garden. They can be controlled by removing shoots or by not placing them in ideal growing conditions. A heavy soil will slow spreading roots. Likewise, a soil with few nutrients will not nourish the plant causing slow growth. The less moisture a plant receives the slower it goes. Too much or lack of sunlight can also slow a plants growth

Seeds that have been deposited by animals often germinate in impractical locations. Do some research about the plants cultural requirements, sunlight, moisture, soil, then move the plant to a suitable location. Taking time to learn about the plants increases its chances of survival.

When removing unwanted plants take time to remove as much of the root as possible. Often a small piece of root is all that is needed for the plant to regenerate. An active compost will turn most parts of a herbaceous plant into compost. The exception are the seeds. They are often still viable in the compost. Bagging weed seeds and placing them in the garbage is a good solution.

Different weeds will respond to different sprays. Read and follow the instructions on each product. Using more product does not necessarily mean there will be a better kill. Some pesticide are dormant on contact with the soil while others have a longer residual life. Chemicals with a residual life can inhibit plant growth for more than a season.

Each gardener will have their own definition of what is a weed and their own method of controlling unwanted plants.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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