The Dandelion (Part I)

Abandonando el hogar by gonzalo_ar

Everyone knows the dandelion. And everyone knows that the common name dandelion is taken from the French word “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth, referring to the coarsely-toothed leaves.The Latin name is Taraxacum officinale.

The flowers at this time of year are quite lovely, but everyone knows the seeds will soon emerge and as soon as they do, dandelion seed will spread everywhere -by the wind, by children blowing the seeds, by animals rubbing against the seed ball or animals and birds. They say that the seed can spread as far as 5 miles from the original site.

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How to deal with hairy bittercress and other weeds

Cardamine hirsuta, Lamium purpureum, Glechoma hederacea by AnneTanne

There is a cute little weed with tiny white flowers that is growing in many gardens and lawns in the United States, Europe  and Asia.  It is a winter annual that grows in spring. A winter annual is a plant that germinates in the fall and winter so that you may think it is dead because you don’t see it in those seasons and then in the spring it comes up, seemingly all over the place. (see here)  Some of the common names of this plant are hairy bittercress, pepperweed, snapweed, and land cress. Its Latin name is Cardamine hirsuta and it is in the mustard family which means it can be eaten. Mustards are winter annual plants. Hairy bittercress likes to grow in disturbed soil, in a sunny area that may be a bit wet. It is also found in greenhouses and newly potted plants and gardens.

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On Weeds

Purslane by A. Drauglis..

TheGardenLady has not spent much time writing about weeds. But weeds are something that TheGardenLady spends a lot of time pulling as well as thinking about. (I have read Weeds of the Northeast by Richard H. Uva. )

Whenever I pull the wild purslane- Portulaca oleracea or the Lamb’s Quarters -Chenopodium album or any of the other edible plants that are considered weeds like chickweed- Stellaria species or dandelions-Taraxacum officinale and toss them, I feel really guilty. I know I should really be harvesting these plants not composting them, even though composting means I am recycling these plants.

I have eaten purslane, a popular healthy green used a lot in Middle Eastern cooking.  And one time, I did want to try to make some dandelion wine since I grew up near the Dandelion capital of the world, Vineland, NJ.

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Things To Do When Gardening in July

Colorado potato beetle larvae dining on nightshade leaves by imarsman

July is the time to work in the garden -  so get up early before the sun gets brutal.  A few of the jobs to be done in July are:

Water plants: If you live in an area that is having a drought, you will have to water. With the heat of summer and the drought,depending on your plants, many will need to be watered frequently. How to water correctly is often misunderstood. A good site for information on proper watering is this.  And because water is becoming more and more of a rare commodity, with a drought might come prohibitions from your township on using it outdoors on your grounds. So you will have to check with your local government to see if watering outdoors is being allowed.

In times when water is rationed you might want to use what is called gray water to keep the plants alive. Gray water is the water used in your house for washing, etc. – all but toilet water. The proper usage of gray water is explained here.

It is best to water before the sun comes up. It is best to soak the soil around the roots of the plants rather than to spray water over the tops of the plants. First, it saves water. Less water evaporates when you soak the root area. And for some plants, especially roses, watering the leaves can cause fungal problems like black spot – if the plants are susceptible to the disease.   When you water it is best to soak the plants deeply so that the roots stay down in the soil. Shallow watering can cause roots to more upwards.  See here.
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How Invasive Plants Came Here

Glechoma hederacea - Hondsdraf, groundivy by AnneTanne (on flickr)
Glechoma hederacea - Hondsdraf, groundivy by AnneTanne (on flickr)

In the last post, TheGardenLady explained the problems caused by invasive plants – that is, plants that have come into the environment and take over the native plants’ environments, eventually choking out the native plants.  In this post, TheGardenLady explains how invasive plants came to this country.

Some invasive species came accidentally in ship ballast, packing materials or even on people who travel around the world and return with small seeds adhereing to shoes or clothes, etc.

Some came purposefully.

Some were brought as medicine or food. Ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea, with many common names one of them being Gill over the Ground, is an invasive that was brought here by our earliest settlers. Ground ivy has a long history of use in alternative medicine and as an edible herb, dating back to the first century A.D. Ground ivy was considered to be such a miracle medicine that it is said to be one of the first herb and edible plants brought to the North American continent. Now it has become so invasive that it is the bane of most people with lawns and there is not much one can do to get rid of it other than repeatedly plowing every tiny stem of the plant until it finally gets killed. But even saying that repeated plowing will kill the ground ivy may be wishful thinking because it sends out runners and may come to  our lawn from a neighbor’s.

Callery pear blossoms 1 by chasqui01 (on flickr)
Callery pear blossoms 1 by chasqui01 (on flickr)

Some were brought for horticultural use. The Callery pear was brought here from China and was used to decorate streets, parks and gardens. The thought was that the Callery pear would not fruit and was therefore sterile. They didn’t know that when the callery pear met other desirable pear species in this country, it wasn’t so sterile and started going forth and multiplying.  See here.

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The Problem of Invasive Plants

Leafy Scourge by Anita363 (on flickr)
Leafy Scourge by Anita363 (on flickr)

This May TheGardenLady attended a lecture called “Weeds in Nature’s Garden…the problem of invasive species” given by Bruce Barbour who is a Rutgers Cooperative Extension Environmental Agent. There are invasive plant species, invasive animal species and invasive disease species. This is a fascinating and scary topic. For example, the April 20th, 2009, New Yorker magazine wrote an article about the escape of exotic animals in Florida where they are now invasive species. We have all watched in horror as something called the swine flu or the H1N1 virus spread across the world.

But the invasive species that Bruce Barbour spoke about was the plants
species that have become invasive in NJ and around the country.

What are invasive plant species and why are they a problem? Well, the short answer is that these are plants have come into the environment some way and then they take over the native plants’ environments, eventually choking out the native plants and they become nuisance plants or weeds where they are not wanted. The native plants were the plants that fed the local animal population. Without the native plants to eat, the native animal, bird and beneficial insect populations that need special plants are lost or can become extinct. It is a vicious problem in at least the short and middle term. In the long term, millions of years from now, we can’t know what will happen.

If you’re concerned with the invasion of invasive plants, and you’re wondering about what types of plants your should plant in your area, there is an excellent website that talks about native plants for each area in the United States.  Here it is.

In addition, each state has its own Native Plant Society. Consider joining your state’s Native Plant Society or checking out their website.

In two days, TheGardenLady will continue to discuss invasive plants, in particular how they came to the United States.  So stay tuned.