The story below is an excerpt from our July/August 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
Shortly after setting up house with My Own Farmer, I planted a strawberry bed. I did all the right things. I dug the sod out. I excavated the edges of the bed and lined it with plastic. I built a rock wall on top of that. Then I filled the new garden with loamy soil. I dug holes, piled up little cones of dirt and capped them with my strawberry starts. I poured each plant a drink. Then, I went to sit on my front porch and dream about strawberry shortcake.
The strawberry plants pushed out new leaves, but not as fast as the weedy whorls of grass that started growing beside them. When I pulled them up, I discovered long, fleshy roots. Many were three or four feet long, and they were dotted with rhizomes just waiting to sprout. I pulled grass every day, but by the end of the summer, the grass had won. That strawberry bed is now just a bump in my lawn.
After a little research I discovered the name of my enemy. It was wire grass. It reproduces like Medusa’s snaky hair. Lop one root off and two take its place. I once heard the professional gardener, Andre Viette, advise a homeowner that the only way to win with wire grass was to sell your house and move.
The summer after invading my strawberry bed, the wire grass marched across the lawn and attacked my flower beds. It wriggled under the rocks and shot seeds across the mulch. It sank roots six inches deep and resurfaced between lilies, daisies and hostas. Soon my beautiful beds were pockmarked with holes because the wire grass roots tangled around the flower roots. To remove one, I had to remove the other.
Fueled by its flowery victory, the wire grass ran reconnaissance on my vegetable garden and found the borders completely unprotected. It crept in and established a bulkhead between the cucumbers and potatoes. From there, it mounted a series of attacks and won new ground each year. No amount of pulling, hacking, trenching or mulching could turn the tide. The wire grass won.
For years, I made a serious effort to establish a détente. I mulched with black plastic and cardboard which deterred the grass, but didn’t eliminate it completely. By mid-summer it usually surfaced in the squash, cucumbers and corn. By fall, the garden was often completely overrun. I was still able to harvest a decent crop, but each spring it got harder to find bare ground for seeds.
After years of compromise, I decided to launch one final attack. This spring, at the first sign of warm weather, I applied a strong herbicide, appropriate for use around vegetables, to the entire garden. I also sprayed a foot wide “no grass zone” around the edges. I normally avoid all chemicals, but I decided to sacrifice my principals to win the war.
At this point in the growing season, it appears that I’ve won. While there’s still wire grass in the flower beds, the vegetable garden is grass-free. I was feeling pretty cocky about my victory until I read that wire grass seeds can live for two or three years before germinating.
I once read that a weed is just a plant out of place. If the wiregrass returns I’ll put it to good use. Croquet anyone?