Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


April 30, 2012

PLATEAU GARDENING: Maintenance for perennials

CROSSVILLE — There is a mistaken notion that perennial plants are maintenance free. That is not true. Certain yard and garden tasks must be done whether you grow annuals, biennials or perennials. Garden sanitation is one example. Cleaner beds grow healthier plants. Every season has appropriate garden cleanup tasks. Weeding is another equal opportunity landscape chore. Although, I find weed removal is sometimes tougher with perennials. It can be harder to work around permanently placed plantings than to eliminate weeds in beds that are tilled then freshly planted each spring. Weeds compete with "good" landscape plants for sunlight, soil moisture and nutrients. Getting rid of weeds not only makes your yard look good, it eliminates habitat where insect pests and plant diseases flourish as well as makes elements ornamentals need to thrive more readily available.

Broadleaf weeds like dandelions growing in your lawn can be sprayed with an herbicide that does not damage turf grass. There are also sprays formulated to kill grasses that invade garden plots without harming desirable ornamentals. Many broad spectrum weed killers such as Roundup, contain the chemical glyphosate. Glyphosate is a systemic that kills both grasses and broadleaf species. Applying any herbicide in planted areas where undesirable plants are mixed in with desirable ones of a similar classification (broadleaf /dicot and grass /monocot) is not an easy task. The risk that some of the "good" plants will be wiped out along with the "bad" ones is high. Pulling weeds is a slower but a better option in garden beds.

My perennial bed out by the mailbox is a good example of a space where weeding is especially difficult. This area is planned to have various perennials bloom in succession so there are some blossoms at every point during the growing season. When I took photos for this story, only clumps of distinctive leaves marked the bearded iris and daylilies in that bed. Homestead Purple verbena (Verbena canadensis "Homestead"), Lunaria biennis (actually a biennial that freely reseeds, commonly known as money plant or honesty), and May Night blue salvia (Salvia X sylvestris "May Night") are displaying purple or bluish-purple flowers. At the front of that bed a clump of dwarf coreopsis (Coreopsis auriculata "Nana") has daisy-like blossoms with deep yellow-gold petals on a plant that grows only four to five inches high.

At first glance, the bed appears lush with greenery. Closer examination reveals many of the leaves and stems belong to the predominate weed, Crown vetch (Coronilla varia). There are a few weedy grasses and tiny oak tree seedlings (probably from acorns squirrels buried last fall) that need to be removed from that bed, as well. Vetch is a persistently invasive weed with underground stems (rhizomes) that creep around and under desirable plants. If left in place, these weeds can out-grow and climb over everything in their way, making enough shade to kill any desirable plants they overrun, even shrubs. Crown vetch is not as fast growing as kudzu, but almost. Vetch has pretty pink flowers later in the season. I recognize the plant’s multi-part leaves which have between 15 and 25 little oval-shaped green leaflets lining either side of the central leaf rib because crown vetch is a garden enemy I’ve been battling for years. It takes care to get all underground traces of weeds without damaging roots of the desirable plants. Bits of vetch left in the soil can be the start of a fresh round of weeds in a week or so. After weeding, mulching around the good plants keeps seeds from germinating but does not seem to stop new vetch plants initiated by rhizomes left underground.


Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region.  UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (931-484-6743) has answers horticulture questions, free publications and details on how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard & garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, 

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