At War with Goutweed

Last year, the Summer of Non-Stop Moving Chaos, I did no gardening. I had no time. All my gardens, large and small, were overtaken by weeds. In November, just after the first snow, I spent an hour cutting back the little apartment garden. The giant heap of stalks and weeds froze to the garden cart, which I emptied by turning it upside down and waiting for the January thaw.

Ten days ago I spent another hour on a spring weeding. The result was above: a rather shabby spectacle, looking even shabbier due to the weeds in the gravel walk (which I’ve since removed with the help of in the company of Colin).

The garden’s problem is goutweed, also known as bishop’s weed or Snow on the Mountain (it has white flowers). The Latin name is Aegopodium podagraria. Looking for photographs for this blog, I found it listed under “Most Hated Plants.” One was labeled “Goutweed Running Amok.”

The plant looks deceptively mild and inoffensive.

It is a thug.

Years ago I accidentally brought goutweed into my school garden when I was given perennials from a neighbor. The cultivar with white-edged leaves is a very pretty ground cover. Unfortunately, once established goutweed can revert to the wild form and rampage through your garden like something from Jurassic Park. It is extremely invasive and fast-growing, and as it is rhyzomatous, every speck of root left in the ground will grow a new plant. Goutweed will grow up and through other plants, its spreading colonies smothering them and marching on.

I was foolish in my early skirmishes with goutweed. In a fit of parsimony and sentimentality, I moved plants from my school garden to the farm. Of course I did not bring goutweed. Sadly, however, I did bring goutweed roots in the soil. So now three of my gardens: the apartment garden, the iris garden, and Allen’s tiny boulder garden, are infected with this pest.

When Allen died in 2015, I had moved some bee balm in front of his boulder at the barn. Here’s the bee balm in July of 2016. At the lower right corner of the shot, you can see tiny sprouts of goutweed. Today the area is overrun with goutweed and there are perhaps two remaining stalks of bee balm. Meanwhile, the goutweed has escaped and is rolling on toward the garden shed.

Goutweed has also sprouted and spread at the top of the south pasture, where I made the mistake of starting a compost pile of pulled weeds. It turns out that pulling goutweed barely weakens the plant. Sites recommend poisoning it with Round-Up, baking the roots in sunshine for over week, or smothering it with black plastic — anything to starve it of its ability to photosynthesize. Outside the gardens I am fighting back with my weedwhacker and mowers. Inside the gardens my plan is to use cardboard and mulch to weaken its stranglehold and even the odds. (My experience with black plastic has not been good.)

Yesterday I flattened liquor boxes and laid them out between the plants in the apartment garden.

Then I covered them with cedar mulch. Yes, I bought bags of bark — something I’ve never done before. Normally I’ve acquired wood chips from loggers, and they’ve arrived by the dump-truck load. But I need the mulch now, not weeks from now when I can find it.

I’m at war with goutweed on four fronts and must use every weapon at hand.

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