Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Weekly Weeder: Queen Anne’s Lace is Wild Carrot

          The bright white umbels of Queen Anne’s Lace, AKA wild carrot, are decorating our roadsides and fields in many places.  These biennials are a bit harder to get rid of in their first year than annual weeds, because they have a large root that holds a lot of food for living through the winter and growing their flowers in the second year.   But once they put up flowers, they can be cut under the crown like annuals and they don’t seem to return.
          If the ground is recently watered, one can usually pull the plant at any point in its growth, especially if the soil is soft from mulching.  I only started cutting plants under the crown when I wanted to kill weeds like goat heads and star thistle in dry, unimproved ground.  But I have found scissors to be useful even where I can pull plants, as it is often quicker than trying to get a good hold on the leaves and crown and pulling, and one avoids pulling off the leaves and leaving the crown.  But in good ground, it can often be much faster to just pull weeds.  I go back and forth, depending on the plant and stage of growth.
          Wild carrot is the reason that it is better to buy carrot seeds rather than grow them, because they readily cross-pollinate and revert to the thin, white root of the wild plant.  If you buy those “rainbow” carrot seeds of many colors of root, they are even more likely to revert, just pollinating each other.  I did that once; they all turned out white.  If there are wild carrots within a half-mile, bees can cross-pollinate them with your carrots.

The tiny white flowers in carrot umbels are good for tiny predatory "good" insects to eat from.

          Looking at a prospective customer’s yard yesterday, I was reminded of one reason to let some carrots flower: to provide tiny flowers for tiny predators to get nectar and pollen.  You can actually buy exceedingly tiny wasps, for instance, that lay their eggs inside caterpillar eggs, but if you don’t have tiny flowers for them to eat from, they won’t stick around and lay eggs.  She was aware of the way these plants can take over and is planning to dead-head them to keep them from spreading.  This is also a good reason to grow chickweed in the spring; carrots don’t bloom until mid-summer.  Chickweed tends to stay in particular places and is a good eating green in the spring.
          A good reason to scatter domestic carrot seed all around your garden is to keep the pill bugs and sow bugs from eating your newly sprouted seeds.  They love carrot seedlings, and will eat them first.  This takes a lot of seed, which is expensive to buy in little packets, but Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (groworganic.com) has carrot seed in ¼ pound packages for a little over $20.  Freeze the seed and you will have carrot seed to scatter for years.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener          541-955-9040        rycke@gardener.com