Do you even know what a pergola is? I didn’t until my wife said she wanted me to build one. She figured it would be a nice afternoon project. A month later and many hours of work later, it was done. It was done all in wood, but they also done in metal. Bel Air Stairs & Railings ( )   has made some nice ones. Continue reading

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Thistle – A Prickly Customer

Thistle. For those of you familiar with this weed, that’s all I have to write to get a cringe. Thistle is the weed that just won’t go away. We are in Baltimore, Maryland, but you could be anywhere on the East Coast, or across the US for that matter. Some are native and some are introduced invasive varieties. Continue reading

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Tree Services – i.e. Giant Weeds

You might think of trees as giant weeds. At least some trees fit this category and all can in some circumstances. Besides my own knowledge, I spoke with Tree Services Annapolis, a firm we have used and highly recommend to get some additional insights.

One of the worst culprits are mulberries. A few are native but most could be considered an invasive species brought in to provide food for silk worms. The invasive gypsy moth was brought into the US to breed with silk moths at the same time and some got loose and started eating everything in site like a grade B horror movie. Continue reading

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English Ivy

English Ivy (Hedera helix) has for a long time been planted as a ground cover. However, it is not native to the United States, and many people now consider it to be an invasive species and a pest and a weed.

It is good as a ground cover because it forms a thick mat and prevents other things from growing. However, controlling it is a problem. Getting English Ivy to stay where you want it to stay can be a full time job. If it is near your lawn, it will be happy to put out shoots and start invading the lawn.

Bushes and Trees in Danger

Trees and bushes can be an even bigger problem, although they are easier to deal with than the lawn. If ivy gets into the lawn, it is almost impossible to get out without digging it all out and restarting with a new lawn. You can’t use a weed killer like you can with some broad leaf plants in the lawn because what you need to kill the ivy will also kill the grass.

For trees and bushes, you need to cut the stems at the base of the tree and the part above that will die. You should also dig out the roots if possible or it will immediately start growing back.

Smothered Trees and Bushes

If you don’t control the ivy it can completely smother a bush or tree. It will grow up the trunk and out the branches. With the sunlight it gets there, the growth habit changes. The leaves get larger and it flowers and puts out many berries. The berries about about a quarter inch in diameter and dark blue or black in color. Besides blowing and starting ivy plants in different places, birds also eat them and the seeds end up wherever the birds droppings go. Frequently below branches in trees and bushes.

We bought a house and the grounds hadn’t been taken care of. There was a tree that was completely enveloped in ivy. The individual stalks were up to 2 inches in diameter and they had merged together so the tree was wrapped all the way around in ivy 1-2 inches thick and going up at least 10 feet in this solid mass before splitting into visible individual vines and going up another 30-40 feet in addition to out branches and creating branches of its own. What a mess.

Danger to Houses

Some people think that it can be very sophisticated to have ivy growing on a building. But it is very damaging to houses. It grips to the house with small roots that come out from the vine. They will find any small crack and potentially make them bigger over time. They are particularly harsh on the mortar between the brick. And when they get up to where the eaves and gutters are, they can do a lot of damage. Both physical damage and damage due to moisture retention.

A Safer Ivy

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is not actually an ivy but is part of the grape family. It is actually the ivy that you frequently see growing on the walls of Ivy League colleges and at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It is deciduous unlike the evergreen English Ivy. Boston Ivy is spectacular in the fall, turning bright reds and other colors.

It attaches to buildings with little sticky pads instead of roots and for that reason doesn’t do much if any damage. If you do want to remove it, don’t pull it off while living. Cut the vine at the base and let the vine die before trying to take it off.

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Mulberry trees are one of the banes of my existence. We had a large one on our property that was a voluntary. I am pretty sure it wasn’t planted on purpose. It was big and it was ugly. Its roots were starting to destroy a sidewalk in one place and it was shading out other trees and plants that were much more interesting. When we had the Yew Tree incident, we were able to get rid of the mulberry.

Roots, Roots and More Roots

It still hasn’t wanted to go away. The tree company that took it down ground the stump but there were huge roots. Many of the roots were right where we were going to plant the arborvitae to replace the yew. The tree company knew this, so I was a bit miffed. I dug some of it up myself and then had them come back and finish getting the bigger roots out.

Even so, in a couple of places, a new tree is trying to grow up from the roots and I am having to combat it.

Birds love them and because of that you have to be constantly looking for small mulberry trees sprouting. Frequently under branches and bushes where birds sit and then poop. Get them as early as you can because they put down a long tap root amazingly quickly. They are a fast growing tree and are somewhat unusual in that they not only have a large tap root  but they also have large horizontal roots. Most trees have roots that extend about to the edge of the trees canopy if you were to draw a line straight down from it. The mulberry’s roots seem to go further.

History of the Mulberry

There was a native mulberry but others were imported from Europe and other places in 1733 by a General Oglethorpe and later by others who were trying to start a silk trade in the United States. They also liked the tree because it was fast growing and provided lots of fruit.

Good Eatin’

Farmers found they could fatten hogs with mulberry trees which would grow even on poor thin soil that other plants did not do well on. The fruit is apparently very delicious. I should have tried some before the tree was cut down. Apparently it is not a commercial crop in the US because the fruit is so fragile that it is difficult to pick and transport on a commercial scale. So if you have one on your property or know of one in your neighborhood, next summer try eating some of the fruit.

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Sedges look a lot like grasses at first but are not the same. They can be very difficult to control. As one article said they are like the good witch and the bad witch from the Wizard of OZ. Some are used for ornamental purposes and others are invasive and difficult to eradicate once they are established.

To make matters worse, there are different types of the invasive ones and they require different strategies. Some of the common problem ones are yellow nut sedge, purple nut sedge, umbrella sedge, globe sedge, cylindrical sedge and annual sedge.

Prefer Moist Environments

Sedges tend to like moist environments, sometimes marshy, although some varieties do fine in drier soil. They tend to grow taller, have larger blades to their leave and have seed heads that are much larger and not as fine and delicate as grass seed heads when you let grass get that long. Most of the sedges also have a triangular stem although some have round stems.

Since most sedges like moisture, one way to control them is to add soil to low lying areas so water doesn’t collect there as much. Another way is to keep the grass mowed so the sedge can’t form seed heads. If they are in the garden where you don’t mow, even if you don’t pull them, make sure that you cut off the seed head before they drop their seeds.

Different Strokes for Different Folks (Or Sedges)

You also need to identify which sedge or sedges you have so you can plan the correct means of attack. Some sedges are perennial and others are annual. If yours are annual, the key to control is to prevent it from dropping any seeds.

If you have a perennial variety, you have more of a problem. There are some herbicides that could be effective. They are different from ones for grasses and broadleaf weeds. One is called SedgeHammer.

On the Scott’s website it says that the nutsedges are perennial. They have roots that can extend down 10-14 inches and they have small tubers or nutlets that grown on the roots that new plants grow from. So if you don’t get all of the root, they just grow back.

Long Grass or Short?

Scotts says to mow the grass long. It says that nutsedge are stimulated by short cutting and by leaving the grass longer it helps the grass to crowd out the nutsedge.

An article by two weed scientists from the University of Tennessee say to cut the grass quite short and cut it a couple of times a week to control nutsedge. Not sure whether to believe them or Scotts.


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Japanese Stiltgrass

Japanese stiltgrass looks a bit like a miniature bamboo. Not the tall variety that you get bamboo poles from but one of the smaller varieties. Stiltgrass only gets at most about 6-8 inches high but if not controlled, it can get up to two feet high.  To see a picture, click here.

Annual but Long-Lived Seeds

It is an annual, so that makes it slightly easier to deal with. However, the seeds can be viable for years, so if you pull them and they are close to going to seed, don’t compost them. You will regret it next year.

Remove by Weeding / Pulling

Luckily, they barely have any root structure at all so they are easy to pull up. They appear in the summer but grow extensively in the fall. Pull them before they can go to seed. Pull the weed after a rain or wet the area you will be weeding. This goes for any weed. It is much easier to pull them and have the roots come to when the soil is wet. When it is dry, they tend to snap off and leave the roots in the ground and you will just have to come back and do it all over again.

Stiltgrass likes moister and shady conditions which grass doesn’t do too well in. You can condition the soil to make it better for your grass so it can compete better with the stiltgrass. You could also help things by doing some pruning of trees in the area to get more sunlight to the ground.

If the soil is too moist, core aeration can help. Also, once the stiltgrass is pulled, you should put down something to prevent the seeds from germinating. A natural product is corn gluten which should be put down in the spring. Or you could use Preen. You might want to retreat after 3 months with either Preen or the corn gluten.

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Creeping Charlie Ground Ivy

Creeping Charlie / Ground Ivy

Creeping Charlie is a perennial that can be difficult to control. It generally stays low to the ground and puts out shoots or stems along the ground which root at spots along the vine or stem. It will sometimes go up if it has something to support it. It is evergreen and considering that it is in the mint family, it is not surprising that when crushed it smells somewhat minty.

If you are into brewing beer, you might want to encourage its growth. The ancient Saxons used to to brew beer. It is European and was brought to North America for medicinal reasons and is now found in almost the entire United States.

The stems are squarish and the leaves are round and scalloped. It gets into grass in shaded areas, preferrably moist and then expands to sunny areas. It is also happy in flower beds and can become a quite dense mat. It spreads in two ways, rhizomes and seeds.

The vines have nodes which is where the leaves grow from. If the node touches the ground, it will sprout roots. If you then pull the vine and it breaks and leaves those roots in the ground, it just starts growing a new plant.

Controlling / Killing Ground Ivy

To control it, use a broadleaf herbicide. The University of Maryland Extension program suggests one with several active ingredients. Particularly look for the ingredient triclopyr which is supposed to be more effective.  They say that two applications are usually necessary and that they should be done 14 days apart.

Another website says that the only effective herbicides for Creeping Charlie are ones that have dicamba. Apparently even this herbicide is only effective if done at the right time of the year. If you apply in late spring or summer, it will only stall its growth and not kill it. They recommend treating it in early fall when it is growing most actively. The idea is that it will weaken the Creeping Charlie enough that the winter weather will finish it off.

Here is the prescription for when you do do this. Cut the grass and wait three days. This will cause the ground ivy to put out more leaves and take up more of the herbicide. Once you have treated it, wait another 3 days before cutting the grass again.

In flower beds you can get rid of it by hand pulling (best after rain or watering). Or you can smother it which can be done with newspaper or mulch or both.

Good luck!

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Yew Tree Story

This isn’t about weeds. Just a funny story I thought you would like. One night around midnight my daughter and I heard a crash and a rumble. My wife and other daughter were asleep and didn’t budge. My daughter came in and said, “Did you hear that? What do you think it was?”

Since we had had an earthquake about a year before that was the first thing I thought of. We live not too far off a main street and the earthquake have felt like a parade of tractor trailers rumbling by. But it didn’t really seem like an earthquake or trucks rumbling by. So the two of us went outside to see if we could figure out what it was.

We looked around for a bit and didn’t see anything obvious. We had gone out the back door and looked around and up and down the alley. Just as we were about to go back in mystified, I looked out to the street in front of the house and realized something was funny. Why we hadn’t gone more to the front of the house I don’t know.

But, I noticed that there were two bright lights shining through a large yew bush/tree in the front left corner of our property. As we got closer, we realized that the lights were headlights shining out from the middles of the yew and that the car was on its side. Not your normal day to day occurence.

The driver climbed out of the window that was facing up and seemed to be OK. I watched the police give him a sobriety test and he passed with flying colors, so not drunk or stoned. I think he fell asleep at the wheel. He narrowly missed hitting a large tree. If he had hit that he might not have lived. It has made me more cautious about driving while I am tired.

According to the police the driver kept changing his story and it didn’t make much sense. He claimed that someone cut him off. Wrong. The road in front of the house is two lanes each way. He was in the lane towards the middle of the road. You could tell because of the skid marks which clearly went from that lane across the curb lane, up over the curb, across our neighbor’s yard and into our yew bush.

Not this was no ordinary yew bush. It had probably been planted in 1930 when the house was built. I was about 20 feet high and 20 to maybe 30 feet across. The trunk was at least a foot in diameter (diameter not circumference) at the base before it split into different branches which were also sizeable. The car had sheared it off at the base. Luckily for him, I think the large branches had acted as cushioning.

We were amused when we spoke to his insurance company and found out that he had neglected to mention to them that he had ended up on his side in a bush. He had apparently greatly minimized what had happened.

Although we miss the magnificent yew bush, it worked out allright. The insurance money from his company paid for removal of the mess and planting of arbor vitae as a new screen. Huge old azaleas that hadn’t seen much light in probably decades started to thrive again. This spring they were spectacular. One is probably 8 feet high and about the same across and was just covered in blossoms.

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Purslane’s scientific name is Portulaca oleracea. This one is interesting because it can be seen as an invasive weed or something great to eat. It is native to India and Persia and has spread to many places around the world. In some cases it spread by accident, but other times it was spread on purpose because many people like eating it and brought it with them to plant.

Purslane has fleshy leaves and stems. Almost reminiscent of aloe plants or other succulents. The University of Illinois Extension program has a nice article about purslane which was one of the sources for this.

Purslane as Weed

Now, if you want to control it and consider it a weed, the first thing to know is that it is an annual. Therefore it is critical to not let it go to seed. Even if you leave some of the plant, get the flowering portion. The seeds can remain in the soil for as much as 40 years and still be able to grow. During the growing season, it can sprout from sections of stem as well. So if you chop it up and leave it there, bad move, you will just get more purslane.

It likes a soil temperature of 90 degrees or more. Therefore it tends to germinate in June and on into the summer. Pre-emergents like Preen are effective for about 3 months. So many people put Preen on first thing in the spring and then forget to spread it again in June or July. This gives purslane and other plants a foothold.

Purslane as Food

Purslane used to be eaten commonly and in many parts of the world still is. Mother Earth News has a nice article about it as a food and health food. It has started to make a resurgence in restaurants that are into local produce and in farmer’s markets. It is high in Omega-3, so it is very healthy and beneficial to eat.

Purslane has a lemony flavor and because of the fleshy leaves and stems is crunchy. When it is young, it is quite good in sandwiches and salads. It can also be stir fried and used in place of spinach. If you make pesto, try mixing some in to that too.

Purslane as Health Food

You will wonder why more people don’t eat purslane when you find out what is in it, which is rather remarkable.

It has more Vitamin E and Omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) than any other plant. If you think spinach is good for you, purslane has 6 times as much vitamin E. And what about carrots and beta carotene? Purslane has 7 times as much! And if that is not enough, it is also has magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, phosphorus, and vitamin C in abundance.

The human body doesn’t produce vitamin C or essential fatty acids. They must be eaten and the current American diet high in processed foods has no where near enough Omega-3 which has been linked to increasing heart problems and other health issues.




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