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Garden Talk

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By Lucy Germany
Master Gardener
When is a weed not a weed?
What is a weed? I have long thought I had the answer to that...or actually, several answers. A weed is something I don't want in my yard....a weed is an invasive e plant-when you turn your back on a weed it turns into weeds plural-which are suddenly all over the place erasing your careful landscaping design. A weed is something that never blooms and produces nothing edible.
But then there's the other side of the coin, suggested by the p.r. person in charge of weeds, inc. Weeds are plants that have escaped cultivation, have never been cultivated, are not handled by nurseries except perhaps in an "approved" form, and are making a mint of money for nurseries and plant products people in the form of herbicides. Weeds DO bloom. Weeds (sometimes) are edible. Weeds sometimes look elegant in a formal landscape.
Fact of the matter is, weeds must be watched carefully. The minute they begin to leap frog over your expensive plants and crowd out your new improved varieties, it's time to do an evaluation. Questions come to mind: is this plant more trouble than it's worth? Am I embarrassed to admit than I am actually growing weeds? Is this version just as good as the cultivar which may cost your week's grocery money at the nursery? Can this weed be grown and enjoyed without regular watering, pruning, pesticiding, fertilizing? Most weeds can, you know. Most of them are tough which is why, once you've started them you have a hard time getting rid of them. Often it becomes a battle of "you" versus "them".
But consider these weeds, many of which are blooming now: Missouri primrose-a plant with beautiful clear yellow multiple blooms visible now along our roadsides. Spreads via seeds but is not invasive.
Goldenrod-has long root runners from which new plants pop up. If they appear in places where you'd rather not have them, it's an easy matter to pull them up. Very tall but not overwhelming. Long-lasting yellow blooms. Fleabane. Small daisy-like blooms which may be yellow,white or pink. The problem with these plants is they grow tall and have a tendency to fall over if not propped with stakes.. Early pruning will allow them to become bushy and the blooms more showy. Trumpet vine, cross vine, honeysuckle- white and red-like all vines they climb and cover. They need judicious control pruning to keep them in line. Some-particularly the honeysuckles -will become invasive especially in our sandy soil. Vigilance is necessary. Verbascum-also known as mullein-has large flat leaves, very soft and pale green. This is a handsome biennial great for use in landscaping. The bloom, however, on a tall straight stalk is less then attractive-it's yellow but barely so-grow this plant for the foliage. Purple vetch-an early spring bloomer, insistently invasive-bearing beautiful dark purple flowers but it's not worth cultivation. Let it bloom in vacant lots and enjoy it from afar. Bracken fern-not a flower but a fern-is great if you can keep it in bounds but it quickly spreads via tough runner roots; the individual plants become very large, though if you maintain it-which means pruning-it can give you a nice leafy background. In the late summer, however, it tends to turn brown all at once and doesn't reappear until the following spring. Ironweed with small purple blooms, butterfly weed-red, orange and/or yellow-, greeneyes (tall with yellow blooms similar to the sunflowers), coreopsis-mostly annual, lots of bright yellow blooms in early spring, gallardia-copper colored, flat bloom, very pretty but tend to become lank and sprawling, Datura with big white trumpet-shaped blooms and large foliage (improved varieties popular in nurseries),passion flower-large dark purple flat lacey blooms-an invasive climbing plant that is likely to pop up far from where you originally planted it; cypress vine-summer annual with ferny leaves and red blooms; yarrow-white or yellow in the wild but can be found at nurseries in a range of colors; camphorweed-tough woody plant with lots of small yellow blooms smells like camphor-very invasive.
The list goes on and on. These are native plants...wild plants...or weeds if you prefer. Check one of the many Texas wildflower books for more "natives", learn their characteristics and see if they are right for your garden. Probably best-if you think you want to grow some of these-to get seeds from one of the wildflower nurseries. At least, then you'll know what you have and what to expect from what you plant.