Saturday, January 23, 2016

The California Weeds You Need to Pull Now!

One Unpulled Thistle Leads to Lots of Work

One December afternoon I was pulling the result of letting two bull thistle plants reseed last year. One grew up amongst the roots of a grape vine. (See photo below.) You can see a fraction of its babies in the picture to the left. We were never able to pull this parent weed because bull thistles love to infest hard to reach places.

Small patch of bull thistle weeds near a grape vine.
 B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

You can see the bare branches of the grape vine among the baby thistle patch. There are even more on the other side you can't see. I pulled all of this clump in one afternoon. Note: I finally pruned the vine and donned gloves to reach inside the enclosure to remove not only the pesky plant in that corner, but also the rest of the dead thistle stems and heads remaining inside.

This is the cage that supported and protected the now
 dormant grape vine. You can see the dead thistle
 heads which have reseeded both in and outside the cage.
I pruned the vine to get my gloved hands into the cage to
remove these.  

B. Radisavljevic, Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved

This grape vine was planted before we got this property, and it was protected from deer with a wire enclosure around it. The thistle that grew up in the middle of the vine inside this enclosure has been there for about three years because we couldn't figure out how to pull it. It's dead now, but it still took a lot of effort to get it out.  Its dead flowers are still at the top.

You can see how the thistles have worked themselves into places that make them hard to pull. Some are half in and half out of the cage. Some have roots buried under the rocks.
Source: B. Radisavljevic, Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved

Last year's flowers, carrying seeds, are dead,
but the plant is very much alive.
I will not compost the seed heads.

 B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved
I decided to weed this afternoon because we had our first really big rain storms last week. It completely soaked the ground, and it had dried just enough to be ideal for weed pulling. When it's too dry, you can't get the roots of perennial plants, and they will simply grow back. I had a few slip away from me today, even so. The roots are slippery, and the outer skin of the bull thistle will come off in your hand with the top of the plant, and you can't always grasp what's left. That's why it's so important to get them young.

This picture shows the thistle in bloom in the midst of my herb
 garden. I didn't pull it in time last summer, and I pulled
about 25 of its children out this afternoon.

 B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

Why did I decide, with all the weeds in my gardens and orchard, to attack the bull thistle first? Because, in my opinion, it grows the fastest and can do the most damage if it gets big enough to reseed. It's dangerous when it gets big because of its very sharp thorns. Think cactus, because it hurts almost as much if you touch it. Although its flowers are beautiful, like most other thistle flowers, it's a beauty you don't want in your garden.

These are the roots of some  baby bull thistles.You can see their
lengths as compared to the size of the leafy part of the plants.
 This is why you need to get these out while they are small.

Source: B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

Above you see the roots of some thistle seedlings I pulled. Near the middle, you'll see one that is forked. The roots often go off in all directions to help their growth and anchor them firmly. I often pull plants with roots divided into two or three parts.

Note: I am not positive these are bull thistles. They might also be California thistles, since I live in California. Bull thistles can be found in all Pacific states. They look very much alike in the books, but whichever it is, you want to pull it right away while it's small if you see it growing in your garden.

The bull thistle's habit of mixing it up with other plants is shown here.
 It almost looks joined to the milk thistle beside it (white in leaves),
and they are surrounded by wild mustard.

Source: B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

Next Pull Coyote Brush Seedlings

I have previously written on HubPages about the coyote brush, which blooms in the winter. I took additional pictures to help you recognize it while it's small. If you let coyote brush mature, you will not get it out. It will become a forest or a hedge. If that's what you want, at least make sure it's not given a chance to grow up where you don't want it.

Baby coyote brush seedlings close-up. Notice the notched, sawtooth edges, an identifying mark. It is easiest to pull at this stage while roots are only a few inches long.
Source: B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

Coyote Brush not dangerous, poison, or prickly, but it spreads and grows fast. Pull it out when it's small, as in the  picture above, when it's hard to even see, or it will suddenly show up where you don't want it, as in the picture below. Today I found some baby coyote brush plants in the place where I park my car in front of my warehouse. Not good. I pulled any big enough for me to see and grip.

If you don't see that baby seedling in time to pull it small, it might grow right through the asphalt on your driveway, as this one did.
Source: B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

This is a patch of coyote brush seedlings.
 It probably grew up in an environment like the one below.

Source: B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

These are mature coyote brush plants. Some are male, some female. The white on the ground between them likely contains the seeds that will produce what you see above.
Source: B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

These are the relative root sizes of some coyote brush plants I pulled. If you follow the link to Coyote Brush, Blessing or Curse, you'll see even longer roots.
Source: B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

To pull these weeds you need the right tools.

Working on my garden kneeler
© B. Radisavljevic
Weeding can be a tedious job, often done on one's knees. It really helps to have the right tools. I could kick myself for not getting my garden kneeler sooner. I love my garden kneeler and reviewed it here.  Being able to kneel comfortably really helps in getting those tiny, hard-to-see weeds that are so tedious to pull but which have roots a bit too long for hoeing. 

  Flexrake1000L Hula-Ho Weeder Cultivator with 54-Inch Wood Handle  If you run into a very large area covered with baby seedlings with undeveloped roots, this is a marvelous tool. In a matter of a few hours you can prevent a patch of weeds that would take days to spray or whack away once their roots are developed and a foot or more long. This hoe will scrape away all those seedlings which have almost no roots.

 Radius Garden 10202 Green Ergonomic Aluminum Weeder. This tool is just right when you have to pull weeds with roots several inches long that do not have tops of longer than about a foot high. (Unless it's coyote brush, in which case it might take the fork spade, or, in the worst case, the pick. )

Collins Pick 2-1/2 Lb. 36 " Bulk If you let the coyote brush get more than a foot high, this may be your only solution. You need this if you have long thick roots to get out. This pick is light enough for me to use. Men might prefer a heavier one. Where I live this would be needed for even shorter roots if the rocky ground is dry. I have often had to use it even to dig a planting hole where a shovel won't work.

Rose Pruning Gloves for Men and Women. Thorn Proof GoatskinLeather Gardening Gloves with Long Cowhide Gauntlet to Protect YourArms Until the Elbow (Medium) If you are dealing with any sort of thistle, you need long gloves, especially if the plants are mature. These gloves are ideal, since they are heavy enough to keep you from getting hurt and they also protect your forearms. These are for women, but you can click through to find the men's model.

Tommyco 34110 Garden Bucket Bagger Plus (Bucket Not Included) I love having something to carry my hand tools, phone, camera, water bottle, etc. in. I normally use a bucket, but I'd prefer to have the caddy to fasten to the bucket and use the bucket to collect all those seedlings I'm pulling. This is on my wish list.

Get Rid of Poison Hemlock, Mallow, and Milk Thistle Next

Learn to identify poison hemlock in this article. I have it pictured very small here. You need to pull it next because it's evil. It is a lethal, though beautiful, plant, that can easily be confused with other plants in the same family. It has a long tap root. It grows quickly.

This is a new crop of poison hemlock for this year. If you think it might be carrot, smell it. Carrots and parsley will have familiar smells. Poison hemlock smells musty/sweet and evil. These are already too big for the cultivating hoe. Pull them.
Source: B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

These are baby milk thistle plants struggling
to see which of them will survive. The largest one
shows its milky vein markings already.
 These are still small enough to get with a hoe
or the weed cultivator shown above.

Source: B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved
Poison hemlock often grows in company with milk thistle-- in fact it almost always does in Paso Robles and Templeton. Milk thistle can be tolerable, and if you don't want it, it can wait a bit longer, since it's not too difficult to pull even when it's big. Let poison hemlock get big and you'll have a poison forest to deal with. You'll see what I mean if you check out the two articles linked to above.

The largest plant here is a mallow. It's probably still
 small enough to pull. Behind it is the beginning of a
poison hemlock plant. See the frilly leaves?   The tiny plants
in front of the mallow appear to  be milk thistle.
Get them with the hoe or cultivator.

Source: B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

Mallow, often known as cheese plant, has its uses. You might want to eat it, for example. But it you don't want it, get it out early. It has grown higher than my head in the past. Nothing is less fun to face in your garden area in the spring than a forest of mixed mallow, poison hemlock, and milk thistle.

I happen to know, because I have faced it. Fortunately, I was able to hire someone stronger than I to cope with it. It was one of our wetter years, and there was not enough time between storms for the ground to dry out. You can't effectively pull weeds out of mud. By the time it was dry enough to pull the weeds, the forest had grown already and the weeds were literally over my head. If you hack off the tops, the plants grow back. About all that hacking does is prevent or delay reseeding for the season.

Every year I resolve to save myself this work by applying a heavy mulch of newspaper over the garden at the end of summer when all the plants have been pulled. Every year life intervenes and I don't do it. Every square foot you manage to cover with something that blocks light, but lets water through, will save you hours of work when the rains stop falling.

Remember, Get Them When They're Small

As I looked over my land a couple of weeks after the rain, I saw next year's milk thistle crop where that patch of green is. If I had a plow, I'd use it, but I don't. It will be a forest by summer, but I have to concentrate on the garden area. Too much to hoe.
Source: B. Radisavljevic, ©2012 All Rights Reserved

What weeds cause you the most problems where you live?


PerthDailyPhoto said...

Hi Barb. I thought I would pop in to say I've just enjoyed your post for the City Daily Photo theme. The Amsterdam Cafe looks very inviting. Also congratulations on the year of daily photos . I would have very much liked to leave a comment on that post but am unable to as would many others not be able to because it won't allow non Google + comments, I am a Google user just not Google +. Wonder if there's a way that could be fixed because I'm sure many other daily bloggers would enjoy your photos.

Barbara Radisavljevic said...

I'm glad you were at least able to post here. Thanks for visiting my blogs.

Anonymous said...

Good information for many a gardener here. Thanks Barbara for posting and reminding us to get out there early and often....

Melissa Avey said...

I need to find a post like this for Ontario! lol

Barbara Radisavljevic said...

@GrammieO Unfortunately, weeds grow faster than I can garden. I get even by eating some of them.

@Melissa Avey Maybe you will have to write the post yourself.

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