Weeds like it here, too

April 25, 2014

By Jane Garrison

My weeds are gorgeous. They almost break into song at this time of year.

As I laboriously pulled them last weekend, I was marveling at their lush green texture and the brilliant flowers of buttercups, dandelions and Dirty Robert. Good gardeners shouldn’t have this stuff in their yards, so don’t tell anybody.

Jane  Garrison

Jane Garrison

As I looked at each plant, I thought, that’s a nice specimen. What’s the big deal anyway? These are lovely plants. If you’re near-sighted, a field full of dandelions can look like the sought-after wildflower meadow. Buttercups make a cheerful year-round groundcover, and Dirty Robert in dappled shade on the forest floor is so pretty it brings tears to your eyes. I suppose it could be its rank odor.

What’s wrong with people? Why do we pick on these poor plants and label them weeds?

The reason is simple. There are too many of them. Anything that reproduces that easily is considered a weed. They can take over a bed of perennials or a lawn while you’re at the grocery store. If you have them in your yard, many of your neighbors know they’ll have to work harder to keep them out of their yards. They won’t like you for this.

Even worse are the noxious weeds like ivy, Scotch broom and blackberries, capable of smothering everything around them, including trees and natural habitats, turning large areas into a monoculture of one plant type. Even if you think they are pretty, tasty or whatever, they are considered a threat to our environment.

Before Columbus, nature was in good balance with intricate, varied plant communities, now impacted by huge areas of noxious weeds. To protect the environment from further deterioration, King County has put them on the noxious weed list, which means we are not allowed to have them in our yards.

There are two ways to get rid of weeds that don’t involve chemicals — both hard to do.

  •  Root them out by hand, and then never let them grow again for three growing seasons. Without leaves, the roots can’t grow, so they die.
  • Another method takes longer. Shade out some weeds with shrub or tree masses.

When you see shelf after shelf of weed-killing chemicals in stores, it’s easy to think that they are OK to use. Most are not, and are a danger to habitats, the groundwater and the environment. Do your research and don’t just spray everything out of desperation.

Weed control is a daunting task in our jungle, especially in a big yard. If you need help with tools, chemicals, safety hazards and environmental concerns, get a free copy of “Grow Smart, Grow Safe,” prepared by the Washington Toxics Coalition, (www.watoxics.org). Or check out the King County Noxious Weed Control Program (http://1.usa.gov/1i6EIuR). It can give you advice on your particular situation.


Jane Garrison is a local landscape architect who gardens in glacial till on the Sammamish Plateau.


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