A few words of wisdom about weeds

Saturday's Hero

June 01, 1996|By Rob Kasper

IT WAS GREEN AND it was growing. But was it a fledgling cucumber plant or a noxious weed? I recently found myself down on my hands and knees wrestling with this question. A lot of folks might find themselves in a similar position this weekend. Now that our 40 days and 40 nights of rain have ended, there is a whole lot of sprouting going on. Moreover, the rain has softened the ground, making it prime weed-pulling time.

I have developed several ways to distinguish our friends, the sprouts of legitimate plants, from our enemies, those pesky, landscape-ruining weeds.

The first is the real estate test. Namely, location, location, location. In weeds and in real estate, much depends on the neighborhood. If, for instance, a clump of grass appears in a tree well, it is an unsightly intruder, something that should be yanked up by its roots. If, however, the same clump of grass shows up in a backyard bare spot, a piece of ground you have been fussing over for four weeks, then its appearance is cause for celebration. You pop open a cold beverage, take a long, joyful sip, and marvel at your gardening prowess.

The alleged cucumber plant passed the real estate test. It was where cucumbers should be, sitting on top of a mound of dirt where my son and I had planted some cucumber seeds.

The suspicious sprout was then subjected to the next hurdle, the good-looks test. When deciding whether someone is pleasing to look at, a lot depends on who the suspect pals around with. If, for instance, you are an average guy and you walk down Charles Street in the company of Paul Newman, Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise, chances are real good that most onlookers would classify you as "dog meat" rather than as having "movie-star looks."

The same is true with a weed. This particular sprout, for instance, had the two rounded leaves and the single supporting stem that are recognized throughout the gardening world as the classic signs of "cucumber plant good looks." But when I compared it with the real star, it came up lacking.

Weeds, of course, are notorious wannabes. Often they imitate the appearance of the plants they cling to. That turned out to be the case with this sprout. While it resided in the same neighborhood as the cucumber plant, it didn't have the hair. The stem of a cucumber plant has distinctive bristles, or "hairs." This smooth-stemmed sprout failed the hair test and got yanked.

The suspect put up a fight. This behavior confirmed that it was a weed. Your real vegetable plants, your wife's flowers, they pop right out of the ground. Weeds, on the other hand, don't go willingly. They have an attitude. When you yank them, they often try to cut your hand. Sometimes they snap themselves off at ground level and dare you to come after them below the soil.

If you lose your head, and recklessly pursue a weed, you can find yourself digging up a large part of your garden just to get to the root of that sucker. Such anger-inspired excavations are not generally recommended gardening behavior. But they sure can be satisfying. I once chased the root of thistle, a real nasty boy, three feet below the tomato patch. When I bagged its roots, I wanted to hang them up in the basement as a trophy.

Summing up, when trying to determine if a plant is a weed you should remember its location. You should examine its comparative good looks. You should check out its hair and its attitude.

If you are in doubt, you should call in a fellow gardener or family member for a "weed consult." If after the consult, you are still in doubt, wait a week. If, after this hiatus, you are uncertain what to do, yank that baby. Chances are 50-50 that you did a good deed. Besides, weed-yanking feels so good, it must be right.

Pub Date: 6/01/96

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