Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Weekly Weeder: Dock taught me a lesson

          Dock taught me that my Landscape Maintenance teacher was wrong: taking a plant to the ground once a week does not eventually kill it, even when it is fairly small.  Sometimes, you just need a shovel. 
          The theory was that a plant, when all of the above-ground portion is gone, spends a week taking food out of the root, growing new leaves, before putting any food back into it.  This may or may not be true and would be hard to prove.  But in the case of dock, I pulled leaves off it for years and did not kill it.  The leaves break off the crown, just beneath the soil, and it is so slick that one cannot get a hold of it to pull the root.  Much the same happens with dandelions, but their crown is not so slick and can sometimes be pulled. 
I did find, however, that when dock is blooming, its flower stalk is strong enough to hold on to the root and pull the whole thing out, which is the case with many plants that put up multi-flowered seed stalks, because the root shrinks as the seed stalk grows.  This is also the case with many annual grasses, but not all of them equally.
I finally found that if one slides a shovel down next to a tap root and pulls back on it, it pops the root loose and one can pull it out easily without even removing the dirt from the ground.  So one can loosen the root, pull it, and press the dirt down without further disturbing the soil, and you don’t have to wait until it flowers.
Perennial runner grasses need to have their rhizomes dug out or loosened and pulled to get rid of the plant.  Such is the case with broadleaf rhizomes as well, such as oxalis, creeping jenny, and sheep sorrel, a smaller relative of dock.  Like dock, I found that just pulling the above-ground portions of these will never kill them, nor even stop them from spreading.  If the soil is loose enough, one can follow roots underground with one’s hands and pull them out.
The idea that one can kill weeds by taking their tops off once a week seemed to dictate that I should work on all properties once a week.  But many customers could not afford weekly service and many yards are too small to work a whole day once a week.  For a while, I worked half-days for small-yard customer, going from one to the next, which was too much running around.  I eventually settled on a working most yards every other week, and found that once a month in small yards was usually enough keep weeds from blooming and setting seed between visits most of the time.  But bad weather or sickness could delay service long enough for seeds to ripen and spread, so I generally do them bi-weekly as well, sometimes two in a day.
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener          541-955-9040        rycke@gardener.com