The worst weeds

I have no time for the sanctimonious people who proclaim a weed is merely a nice plant in the wrong place. No, weeds are evil and sneaky, and they have no morals. Their unbridled promiscuity means that I have to spend hours on hands and knees when I have better things to do, attempting to stem the invasion. It’s a hopeless task, of course, especially at this time of year.

By far the worst is horsetail (equisetum). It has been around since the days of the dinosaurs, so it is not surprising it has learned to survive. It has roots that go down 2 metres, throws up two new shoots for every one you pull out, and grows right through the middle of low-growing plants such as gentians. Its waxy coating is proof against all known weedkillers. In spring it sends up fruiting bodies, just like a fungus, containing spore so fine that you can’t even pull them up without clouds of proto-horsetails drifting off on the wind.

Yes I know it’s the national flower of Scotland, and with good reason, for it gets everywhere and enjoys a good fight. Impossible to weed without thick gloves, and will sprout from the smallest piece of left-over root. In late August, clouds of thistledown drift over the garden…millions and millions of thistles just waiting for a patch of nice clean soil to settle on.

Rosebay Willowherb: I know it’s pretty, but if it establishes itself in your garden, you won’t get rid of it in a hurry. It is like the thistle in its irritating habits – fragile roots that break off and happily sprout, and clouds of downy seeds in autumn. Annoyingly, it seeds itself into cracks in walls, and is quite capable of sending long roots under paving slabs before appearing among your choice plants.

The goat’s beard (aruncus) is without doubt beautiful for a brief period, glowing among the trees at the back of the pond. But I could do without its habit of seeding itself into every crack in my stonework, where it drills tough, leathery roots into the soil and can’t be eradicated without lifting all the stones and starting again.

That’s only four of the horrors in my rogues’ gallery. Stand by for the next instalment.




16 thoughts on “The worst weeds

  1. Every year we have to wage war on all our weeds, this year has been far worse with all the rain, but eventually we will get there, I hope. I did a post about Equisetum hymale last August 2011, showing the benefits of the plant!! I think mine is slightly different from yours and mine is kept in a pot!! Like you I’m trying to get rid of Rosebay willow herb, but also trying to encourage the white flowered one, I’m not succeeding, it doesn’t like my soil and looks exceedingly pathetic. I think plants will just please themselves, no matter what we do.

    • Ah Pauline, I wish my horsetail were confined to a pot! As for the other weeds – I can never be weed free – I just confine my efforts to those that are smothering plants.

  2. Hi Kininvie
    I see you’ve been out basking in the beauty of the garden again by way of the half empty cup. Is the thistle really the national flower? I seem to recall it showing up nicely in various historic designs so I shouldn’t be so surprised.. We fight it too but we also have the goatsbeard which I consider to be a perfectly valid flower –but then I don’t have all that glorious stonework for it to pop up in. I look forward to learning what other plants you dig up. And now I know how you spell installment.

    • Indeed the thistle is an appropriate national flower, and Scotland’s motto: Nemo me impune lacessit refers to it. It’s an old story about barefooted English soldiers. Don’t tell me you spell installment with a single L? You Americans do have a remarkable ability to lose letters…

  3. My Mum’s garden is FULL of the first two, and my own garden has its fair share of the third. (The goatsbeard, though, is a plant that I love and cherish, though I can see how it could become a nuisance, so I will definitely keep it in check.)

  4. It’s late winter here and at the moment I’m really hating chickweed, although later there will be lots of other contenders for the Worst Weed Award. I’m not sure I have anything as bad as Horsetail, though, so you have my commiserations. And now, back to the chickweed. Only a few trillion to go…

  5. Hi Kininvie
    But you manage to photograph even the nasty bullies so beautifully that I’m tempted by them, a kind of guilty pleasure! My horrors are celandines, which blanket everything in gaudy yellow in spring when my clay is still too wet to work, then bindweed for the rest of the year. In the wet, it has thrown out tendrils six feet long creeping secretly through shrubs and plants before beginning to climb. I have murder on my mind – but how?

    • Hi Minety, Linniew has her troubles with celandine too. Perhaps you could form a club? Bindweed – Luckily I only have bindweed in my raised beds, where it attempts to strangle the peas. If it ever escapes, I’m doomed.

  6. Oh I’ve just done a beekeeping course where they were saying we’d look at weeds completely differently after seeing the bees in their hives. It’s fascinating because the teacher could tell which plants the bees had been foraging on by the colour of the pollen in their pollen sacs on their back legs. And, I’m afraid to say it was weeds that were providing all that pollen – ragwort and rosebay willow herb. I know what you mean though, it is so frustrating that they grow so much more vigorously than the plants we actually want to cultivate.
    Horsetail and Ground elder are my two major problem weeds.

    • Hi WW. I have no doubt ground elder will appear in my next installment. It’s the way its underground stems keep growing over the winter that really annoys me. As far as I know, no insects feed on horsetail – do you know otherwise?

  7. What a refreshing change. A garden blog showing lots of weeds – just like my own humble garden.

    I think I can go one better as I have a knack of ‘growing’ weeds exponentially. I merely leave one area for a week then return and – hey presto – twice as many weeds!

    I can proudly say that I am also the proud owner of the species Rosebay Willowherb. Great.

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