Monday, May 12, 2014

Purging Spurge

Can I just say that I hate spurge? Hate is a strong word, one which my nephew reminds me is inappropriate, but it describes precisely my feelings about this weed.

It has germinated throughout my garden in the past few weeks. The thing about it is, if you don't pull it when it first sprouts, it will spread like wildfire.

My disdain for spurge goes way back. It turns out that spending hours pulling this weed from my childhood lawn has caused me to be bitter. I grew up in the desert. Summer gardening in the Palm Springs area is basically intolerable. The spurge loved the heat. I didn't.

The only good memory I have about pulling spurge in my early years is how luscious it felt to sit in the dichondra lawn. Our front lawn was the most inviting lawn ever. If you haven't sat upon a dichondra lawn and watched the clouds go by, I highly recommend it. It is like a soft cool moist bed, such a relief from the heat, like turning your pillow over in the middle of the night.

This is spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata). It forms low growing roundish mats that hug the ground. A mature plant can spread to 3 ft across. So if you want an itchy rug to envelope your garden, let it go. However, this rug would not be inviting like dichondra. It would make your skin crawl. It's irritating to the skin so wear gloves when pulling it.

Imagine my grief when I discovered there were roughly 20 seedlings per square foot in my garden beds. It forms tiny flowers and tiny seeds in abundance, so it reseeds like crazy. One plant can produce several thousand seeds. Impressive. That's why you have to pull it while it's young. Catch it before it starts producing seeds. It also forms a long tap root (a tapering root that grows straight down with smaller roots branching off of it).  

By the time the plant is one inch across the tap room can reach 3 inches down, determined plant that it is. A mature plant's tap root can reach 24 inches deep. The shorter the root, the more likely you can pull the whole root. If you just pull off the top of the plant, it will come back. The seeds don't germinate well if they are buried deeper than 1/2 inch, so mulching should help. I guess my garden it telling me something. I need to get some mulch!

I find that using a hand tool called a "weeder" is best. It allows you to loosen the soil so that the tap root comes out, but it is narrow so that it does not disrupt the nearby plants as much as a trowel.

Insert the tool straight down near the center of the plant so the tool is running parallel to the tap root.

 Loosen the soil then pull the weed taking care to pull straight up so you get the root.

Try not to spread the seeds as you handle the weed. Put the plant directly into a bucket and avoid shaking it which will spread those pesky seeds.

Luckily I don't have a huge garden, so I did my chore. I pulled each one of those little invaders. Once my veggies finish germinating, I will be buying some mulch. I really don't want to spend my summer purging spurge.


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