Are you a weed?
Do you resist other species’ persistent attempts to drive you away? Does your never-say-die resilience at least earn their respect? Sometimes it seems that nature doesn’t really want us humans here in Corrales. Perhaps the lives of plants would be more tranquil, maybe even more productive, if people would just leave them alone. People can be a real pain in the you-know-what, especially when they introduce weird, water-hogging species to the neighborhood. Or ghastly chemicals. Or stem- and limb-severing blades.
Hostile plants don’t grow nasty thorns or release unpleasant odors just to ward off people, of course, but those tactics may be more effective against other types of intruders since they usually cause humans to redouble their attempts at eradication. Gardeners, especially those not engaged in subsistence food production, often conclude over time to live and let live. For newcomers to Corrales, it’s a common hard-learned realization that what grew well back East or in the Mississippi Valley or along the Pacific Coast just won’t yield the same satisfaction here.
So what was once regarded as a southwestern weed can finally be reconciled and considered a welcome collaborator. A gardener’s satisfaction can come from working with what wants to grow here naturally rather than forcing a plant that doesn’t. It should go without saying that any plant can be considered a weed, since by definition a weed is any plant that’s growing where it isn’t wanted. If you like something that’s growing where it is, it’s not a weed. Corrales gardens traditionally have sprouted lots of volunteers. If wild asparagus makes a surprise appearance, you’re not likely to consider it a weed. The same would not be true of the volunteers Tribulus terrestris and Salsola tragus, known as goathead and tumbleweed disrespectively.
Another volunteer in the bottomlands of Corrales is the mint family’s Yerba Buena, very welcome growing along the periphery of a volleyball court, but definitely a weed growing a few feet away in the middle of the court. This time of year, one of the first weeds to sprout in Corrales gardens is likely to be mustard weed which can pop up even in mid-winter in areas of scant moisture. Their greenery can seem cheerful, but pull them up before little yellow blossoms appear.
Similarly, the weed known by its appearance as fox tail, Hordeum murinum sprouts in winter. Spurge, Euphorbia serpens, shows up in early spring here, and goes to seed almost right away. Careful handling it because the white sap is toxic. But one of the worst, most dreaded is the goathead, also known as puncture vine, which won’t start its reign of terror until summer months. The thorned seed pods are terribly painful when you or especially your dog step on one. If Corrales dogs have nightmares, they’re probably about goatheads.
Goatheads can easily infect an entire path, roadside or driveway since each spiked, round seed pond may hold as many as 5,000 seeds. Fortunately, the plant is easily pulled up; it’s important to accomplish that before the bright yellow flowers show. While some Corrales weeds may appear baby-cute and thereby delay a moment of reckoning, others generally are recognized quickly for malevolent intent. Pig weed grows very quickly after summer rains begin, and can rise taller than a man in no time. But cutting it back with a weed whacker or mower will only make it spread out and go to seed earlier.
Elm trees are clearly among the most notorious weeds in Corrales. The late Evelyn Losack would fly into a frenzy when she appeared before the Village Council to denounce other villagers’ carelessness in letting elm seeds sprout in planters or garden plots. Irrigation ditches filled with elm seeds delivered those invaders to her orchards, making it almost impossible to keep farming.
As with nearly all weeds, they are relatively easy to dispatch when plucked tender —but those roots go deep fast!. Anytime it rains in spring or summer is ideal to pull weeds since the moisture will cause them to zoom up and because they’re so much easier to extract when the soil is wet. Bindweed is another scourge of Corrales orchards and gardens that is much worse than it looks to the untrained eye. Convolvulus arvensis, a perennial, has pink or white trumpet-shaped blossoms and leaves shaped like arrowheads. Its stems wrap around other desirable plants and strangle them. Where it is found growing, it should be eliminated as quickly as possible: left to proliferate, its root system can grow down 20 feet. Be on the lookout for it in June.
Two techniques have been successful in controlling weeds in Corrales and in the metro area generally. One is to lay weed fabric in susceptible areas. Another is installing drip irrigation so that only the precise planting area desired gets watered. When weeds do appear, they’ll be noticed and easily pulled. Weed fabric is a good choice along paths and in larger areas. But it does deteriorate and can be expensive to replace. And bear in mind that some weeds can still take root above the fabric. If that happens, don’t be too frustrated; at least those very shallow rooted weeds can be pulled out with little effort.