How to win the weed war
By By Kathy Connolly • 06/16/2021 7:30 AM EST
Nancy DuBrule-Clemente has encountered a few unwanted plants, aka weeds, during her 50-year career in the state landscape. A UConn graduate in the 1970s, DuBrule-Clemente went to work in the landscape profession and stayed.
On Thursday, June 24, she will explain some hard-won ideas in an online talk, “The Weed Wars: Dealing with Weeds Organically”, and the proceeds from the event will go to a scholarship fund that will benefit a related cause. and dear to his heart.
“I am passionate about training new horticulturalists,” she says. “We need more people in the industry.
Many know DuBrule-Clemente for the destination garden center and landscaping company she founded in 1983, Natureworks. She had run the business at its current location on Forest Road (Route 22) in Northford since 1990 and has promoted nature-friendly organic approaches to ornamental landscapes from the start.
As a member of the Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), she was part of the committee that defined “organic” in the context of landscaping from the late 90s, much like the USDA defines “organic” in the context of agriculture. .
These standards are now taught in NOFA’s Accredited Organic Land Care Professionals program. See nofa.organiclandcare.net to learn more about it.
She is also known for her witty and informative talks at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, among many other venues.
DuBrule-Clemente sold Natureworks to three employees in January 2021 and partially retired. The new owners are committed to keeping his spirit alive like never before.
Bring it home
How does a horticulturalist with 50 years of experience deal with unwanted plants in her home landscape?
“My allotment gardens aren’t as neat and tidy as people might expect,” she says. “I don’t get too mad about hensbit or Creeping Charlie. A little clover is fine. I don’t worry about having a nice lawn.
“I haven’t used conventional mulch for over 12 years,” she adds.
Mulch, she says, generates a weed cycle that quickly outstrips the gardener.
Its replacement for ornamental mulch?
“I use dense plantings that fill the garden and leave no soil exposed. They act like living mulch, ”she says, adding that leaf litter is also a great mulch.
“I use a lot of self-seeded native plants such as asters, goldenrods and fleabane,” she says. “I let them self-seed and propagate through the roots, but if they get too aggressive, I edit them by cutting off the flower heads before they go to seed, or I cut them to the ground.”
She notes that there are many aggressive natives that people hasten to call weeds. Among them are the Virginia creeper, the fleabane and the hay-scented fern, and many others.
“Can a native plant become too aggressive?” This is an important question, ”she admits. “A plant can have a lot of ecological value but end up invading a landscape. “
Some natives are troublesome to humans as well, such as poison ivy or prickly greenbrier.
In search of a state of equilibrium
She adds: “In my allotment gardens, I seek a state of balance. For me that means covering the ground and feeding the pollinators.
Given these guidelines, overgrown native plants are far from his primary concern. Non-native super-weeds such as bittersweet, sagebrush, and Japanese knotweed are more prominent. These destructive invaders can ruin vast landscapes in just a few years. Their impact is not only aesthetic, but environmental and economic.
How can the average homeowner handle super weeds organically?
“We have to educate ourselves,” she said. “For example, most people don’t know the difference between an annual, a perennial or a biennial. When targeting a particular invasive plant, this information is important.
Japanese stilts, for example, are warm-season annual grasses that germinate in early summer and produce bulky seeds in late summer. It is essential to prevent stilts from going to seed. By cutting the plants in late August or early September, the sowing cycle can be interrupted. Plants from the current year will not return for a second year. After several years of this treatment, the seeds buried in the soil will be depleted and the problem will diminish.
On the other hand, mugwort is perennial. It is propagated by both roots and seeds. A cutting strategy that works for stilts will hardly damage a sagebrush stand.
DuBrule-Clemente notes that in both cases it is important to leave the soil intact.
“There is hardly any place for the tiller in today’s domestic landscape,” she says.
No-till methods are the way to go, what she calls “top-down gardening”.
“We have to learn to manage the land, to manage the seeds for the long term,” she says. “This is no longer your grandfather’s landscape. We need different tools to operate successfully in the modern environment.
Tips for live mulching
Some plants form dense ground covers. Their thick roots keep other plants from invading the space, while leaves or needles shade unwanted plant seedlings.
When planted in a well-prepared area, they reduce or eliminate the need for chipped wood mulch. Living mulch is not a new idea; witness to the wide use of Japanese pachysandra. Now designers and gardeners are choosing more native plants for this purpose.
Living mulch comes in a variety of forms, from needle-punched conifers like common juniper to grass-like sedges and flowering plants. Three examples are presented here.
Site preparation is the key to success. Take the time to clean the living mulch area of unwanted plants. For example, use a 12-inch blanket of raw wood chips or a plastic choke for up to a year. This duration eliminates most existing plants. It may be longer than we would like, but it increases the success of living mulch. Once the space is as weed-free as possible, consider one or more of these plants to form this living layer.
“The Weed Wars: Treating Weeds Biologically” will take place Thursday, June 24 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Registration can be done at www.cthort.org. The program will cover how to understand and manage weeds organically. Topics include understanding weed life cycles and growth patterns, managing the dormant seed bank in your soil, passive bed preparation and smothering, timely deadheading, and planting in layers to reduce weed competition.
All proceeds will be donated to the scholarship fund managed by the Connecticut Horticultural Society at cthort.org/section/programs-events/scholarships.
Kathy Connolly is an Old Saybrook writer and speaker who focuses on natural land maintenance, landscaping, and native plant horticulture. For more information, send an email to [email protected]