What Makes a Plant a Weed?
Every plant has a place in the economy of nature, some relation to its environment to which it is adapted better than any other. To perform their greatest service, however, plants must be in their proper place. When sufficiently out of place to be of no great value, they become weeds. Some grasses that are valuable fodder plants under some conditions, are very troublesome weeds under other conditions. Those plants that are not of value in a given location and are therefore defined as weeds, should so far as possible be eradicated, as the moisture and nourishment required to produce these plants should be utilized in the production of some plant of greater value. No plant grown on the homestead will make a maximum development if weeds are allowed to occupy the ground with it. Weeds may also interfere with realizing the value of the plant that is produced. There are pastures in which large areas are so thickly set with thistles and other weeds as not only to interfere materially with the growth of the pasture grasses but also to prevent the animals from obtaining what little feed was produced.
As regards Let’s look at 3 classifications of weeds and how to manage them without chemicals.
Annuals are those plants that come from the seed each season. This is by far the most numerous group, and the method employed should be such as to prevent their seeding.
Management — Seeding may be prevented by thorough cultivation with ordinary tools and by the mowing of pastures and fence rows before the seeds are sufficiently matured to grow. The least amount of cultivation required to kill any of these weeds is while they are very small, and a great amount of extra labor may be saved by performing this operation at the right time. If such plants can be entirely prevented from seeding and no weed seed is imported from neighboring properties or in purchased seeds, it will be only a question of time when practically all the seeds that are in the soil will have germinated and the farm will be entirely free from them.
There is one class of crops in which it is sometimes very difficult to prevent some of these plants from seeding — the various sorts of small grains. One of the best means of prevention in these cases is the thorough preparation of the soil, so that no weeds will be left growing at seeding time, and there may be secured a good stand of strong, vigorous plants, that will keep the weeds smothered down. Where there are a few large scattering annuals that run up to a considerable height above the grain, they may be clipped off with a scythe or sickle.
2. Seeding Perennials
In this class are included those perennials (plants that live from year to year), which spread only by the distribution of their seed. A good example and one of the worst of this class in many localities is the common dock.
Management – The weeds of this class are commonly poisonous and should not only be kept from producing seed but should be cut below the crown with a thistle spud or a common spade and pulled up, as otherwise they will continue to send up their seed stalks and require constant cutting.
In this class are included the perennials, such as the Canada thistle, wild morning glory, quack grass, horse nettle, sheep sorrel, and many others that spread by means of seed distribution and also by underground stems or jointed runners.
Management — This is by far the most difficult group to eradicate. These jointed runners will not only send up new plants while they are attached to the parent plant, but if cut or broken and carried about, the pieces will grow, forming new centers of distribution. These runners have great vitality. They may often become dried and lie dormant for a long time ; then, like a seed, when the proper conditions are presented, spring into life. Thus it will be readily understood how ordinary cultivation is a means of spreading rather than of destroying such plants.
The general treatment for this class of weed is to put the land into some hoed crop, where practicable, and by constant cutting off at the surface of the ground smother them out by not allowing them sufficient leaf growth to gather the necessary food from the air. Summer fallowing will accomplish the same result if thoroughly and properly done, not allowing the plants to make an appreciable growth at any time and using surface tools that will shave the whole surface, cutting off everything. Wild morning-glory may also be quite successfully eradicated by close pasturing with sheep, as these animals are fond of it and will keep it very close, soon smothering it out. It may also be destroyed by pasturing with hogs, and allowing them to root up and eat the rather fleshy roots and underground stems.
The worst kind of weed to let grow is one that not only occupies ground and consumes water and food that should be better utilized, but also actually endangers the life of man and beast. This isn’t a category of it’s own but poisonous weeds fall under all three categories and should have special attention paid to them. There are many plants that to a greater or less degree possess poisonous properties. Some will poison one kind of animal and not another. Some are poisonous for man only when eaten, while others are liable to induce poisoning by the handling, especially when they are wet.
Management — Use similar methods as for other weeds, working with great care about those that are poisonous to the touch.
The internet as well as reference guides will be wonderful tools in researching and identifying the various plants you have on your property. You will need to take the time to do this in order to properly and safely manage your weed population so that you can get he most out of your homestead. So whether your dealing with a garden, a field, a pasture, a fence row or even a lawn, we should strive to make the most out of what we have, and proper weed management is part of that. Happy Homesteading!