What is a weed? A weed is any plant that’s growing where you don’t want it. Some weeds are ugly. Some are pretty. But nearly all share the nasty habit of growing out of control, coming up everywhere, and making you want to shut yourself in a dark room watching Wendy Williams trash Hollywood celebrities. That’s bad. How can you kill and prevent weeds and save your sanity? As always, ask Grumpy.
But be warned — if any of you are philosophically and intractably opposed to the use of garden chemicals no matter the situation, stop reading now. Because while Grumpy advocates minimal use of “chemicals” (which is kind of a dumb thing to say since everything in the garden contains chemicals) and recommends natural solutions whenever possible, some weeds cannot be controlled organically. I’m going to tell you what works, organic or not, and let you make the choice.
Awful Weed #1 — Wisteria
Japanese and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda and sinensis) are absolutely gorgeous in flower. So why do Southerners hate them so? Because these rampant vines smother, strangle, crush, and destroy everything around them. They spread by runners, seed, and suckers.
How to kill it: If it’s a small vine, spray it according to label directions with Roundup. If it’s a big one spraying won’t reach, cut through the trunk a foot from the ground and immediately paint the cut surface with Roundup or Brush Killer. Pouring 20% vinegar over the roots may kill a small one, but won’t work on a big one.
Awful Weed #2 — Chinese Privet
Why oh why did some numskull bring this awful plant from China and sick it on us about a century ago? Now billions of these evergreen shrubs dot the South like poppy seeds on a roll. Birds eat the blue-black berries and poop out the seeds wherever they fly or sit. Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) grows anywhere it’s cold-hardy — in sun, shade, wet soil, dry soil, woods, fields, and cracks in the road. I hate it.
How to kill it: Follow same procedure as for wisteria. Be ruthless.
Awful Weed #3 — Kudzu
You may know that kudzu vine (Pueraria montana lobata) was brought to the South from China as an ornamental plant, as forage for cattle, and for erosion control on highway banks. It has its good points, really. Every bit of it — leaves, flowers, tuners — is edible. Deep-fried leaves are delicious. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that it grows up to a foot a year and would cover the Eiffel Tower if planted next to it.
How to kill it: Cattle love it, so if you have cows, let them graze it to the ground for three years in a row and that will pretty much do it. Lacking cows (or goats), spray it according to label directions with Roundup.
Awful Weed #4 — Water Hyacinth
Native to South America and released in the South around the same time as kudzu, water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is to Southern waterways what kudzu is to fields and forests. I imagine this plague started when some dope growing a single plant in his aquarium dumped it into a pond, bayou, or lake — not knowing that it reproduces incredibly fast by seeds and floating plantlets (its population doubles every 6 days). It completely hides the surface of still water in short order, making fishing and boating impossible.
How to kill it: The best control is climate. Tender to cold and frozen waterways, it won’t survive drops in temperature much below 20 degrees. Some biological controls have been introduced, but they aren’t available to average homeowners and success has been modest anyway. Boats with machines that skim water hyacinths off the water and chop them up can clear water, but again, you’re not likely to have one. Some herbicides, such as these, are registered for use against water hyacinth and do kill it. But they can be toxic to fish and wildlife, kill untargeted plants, and rob the water of oxygen and kill fish as water hyacinths die. I don’t feel comfortable recommending them. Instead, never release water hyacinth into the wild!
Awful Weed #5 — Field Bindweed
Looking like a wild morning glory, field bindweed (Convovulus arvensis) is a vigorous perennial vine that often snakes its way up, over, and through your garden plants. It spreads by seeds that can sprout after 50 years and roots that can grow 10 feet deep. You can try digging it out, but any bit of root left in the ground eventually sprout as a new plant.
How to kill it: Not gonna sugar-coat it for you — getting rid of this sucker is tough and often takes years. If it’s growing by itself, spray it with Roundup. If it’s tangled in other plants that Roundup would kill, you’ll have to carefully paint the chemical onto only the field bindweed leaves. You’ll miss lots of leaves, so repeat applications will be necessary. You also need to prevent seeds from sprouting. You can do this by applying Preen to the soil in affected areas.
Awful Weed #6 — Nutgrass (Nutsedge)
If you have lots of nutgrass in your lawn, blame yourself. Nutgrass (not true grass, but a sedge) thrives in sickly lawns that are underfed, poorly drained, watered too much, and mowed too short. Stop all that. Grow a thick lawn mowed no shorter than two inches and let the good grass crowd out the nutgrass. In the flower and veggie garden, pull any plants as soon as they sprout and spread a two-inch thick layer of mulch over the top. Pulling plants early keeps them from spreading by seeds, roots, and tubers (nuts) left in the ground.
How to kill it: In the garden, suck it up and pull it. Pull some every day. Hoe out seedlings before they get three inches tall. Stick to it. Persistence works. In the lawn, treat according to label directions with Image containing imazaquin. Make sure it’s labeled for your type of grass.
Awful Weed #7 — Grass in Your Flower Beds
Grass works fine for lawns, but when it invades flower beds, it’s a royal pain. Doesn’t matter if it’s bluegrass, Bermuda grass, crabgrass, goosegrass, or dallis grass. The question you face is: Once it has infested the bed, how can I get rid of it without harming my flowers? Just about any weed-killer you spray on the grass will kill your flowers too.
How to kill it: Spray the grass according to label directions with Ortho Grass-B-Gon. It kills only grasses and will not harm broadleaf plants.
Awful Weed #8 — Chameleon Plant
How could a plant so pretty be a problem? Plant it in your garden and you’ll find out. A perennial ground cover that flourishes in warm, wet climates, chameleon plant (Houttynia cordata ‘Chameleon’) spreads aggressively by roots and seeds. Plant just one in your garden one spring and soon you’ll discover it coming up everywhere. Pulling it does no good because any root left in the ground sends up another plant.
How to kill it: Spray it according to label directions with Roundup. If it has insinuated itself into all of your other plants, mix up some Roundup and carefully paint it on the leaves, avoiding the foliage of your good plants.
Awful Weed #9 — Cudweed
As with nutgrass, if you find this squat, woolly perennial with dinky, yellow flowers taking over your lawn, it’s your own fault. It means your lawn is sparse and patchy due to mowing too short and not enough fertilizer. A thick lawn leaves no empty spots for cudweed to colonize.
How to kill it: Apply a broadleaf weedkiller like Ortho Weed-B-Gon or Spectracide Weed-Stop according to label directions.
Awful Weed #10 — Common Violet
Ooooh, I can already hear all those catcalls and epithets! “You spiteful assassin! How can you want to kill pretty, little violets? Do you kick puppies too?”
Look, I don’t want to kill violets. They’re native and they’re cute. The problem is one violet produces hundreds of seedlings in a single year. That’s too much of a good thing.
How to kill it: You’re gonna hate this, but no weedkiller will touch it. The only way to kill violets is to dig them out, making sure you get all of the tuberous roots. Give yourself an incentive. Every day, dig out as many as you can in the time it takes to consume an adult beverage. Sounds like it’s gonna take years.