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Cheryl Wilson's Get Growing: Now's the time to pull those weeds

Multi Flora Rose  weed at Nasami Farm in Whatley.



CAROL LOLLIS

Multi Flora Rose weed at Nasami Farm in Whatley. CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

Thanks to the huge rainstorm a week ago, pulling weeds was really easy over the weekend. Before the deluge the soil was like a desert and roots were hard to remove.

Getting rid of weeds in August will save you a lot of grief next spring. This is when many weeds are setting seed, especially those in the grass family. Get them out of the garden before those seeds drift into your favorite ornamental plants or settle into the vegetable garden.

Herbicides, of course, will lessen your work load, but they are lethal to more than weeds. Rachel Carson sounded the alarm 50 years ago about chemical pesticides but we are still using many of them in our gardens. I confess to employing Round-Up on occasion, but only for poison ivy and bittersweet. I am very allergic to the noxious poison ivy and frankly too old to try to dig out bittersweet beyond the seedling stage. Still, it gives me pause even to contemplate using that chemical especially with recent reports on its adverse effects on human beings. That is one reason the bittersweet is out of control in some areas of my property. I kept procrastinating about getting out the spray bottle.

If you do opt for chemicals, remember that they will kill anything they touch, so be careful in spraying. One trick to applying Round-up is to use a small paintbrush or even a cotton swab instead of the spray bottle itself.

There are perennial weeds like ground ivy, plantain and witch grass that should be dug out now. Crabgrass, an annual, will die completely after hard frost, but it, too, should also be removed before it sets seed. However, be aware that even if you are vigilant now, dormant crabgrass seeds will sprout around May 1 and a pre-emergent herbicide, even corn gluten, can reduce their germination rate. Crabgrass is the bane of lawn lovers but also can invade garden beds. Fighting dandelions is almost a losing battle — especially if you have small family members who like to blow the seeds around in the spring. Their taproots run quite deep but can be fairly easily pulled or dug after a rainstorm like last week. (This week’s rain was far gentler, but just as welcome to gardeners.)

In “The Founding Gardeners,” Andrea Wulf’s wonderful book about Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison and their gardens, the author quotes Richard Peters, a prominent Pennsylvania gardener of the 18th century writing to Alexander Hamilton: “Spare no expense to destroy weeds… Weeds are the Jacobins of agriculture. If you do not destroy them, they will certainly ruin you.” Take his advice. (In case you have forgotten your history, Jacobins were the radical revolutionaries of the 18th century in France and England.)

RENAISSANCE GARDEN OPEN HOUSE: The new vegetable garden at the Massachusetts Interdisciplinary Center for the Renaissance in Amherst is open to the public free of charge tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Meet gardener Jennie Bergeron and UMass Stockbridge professor John Gerber and learn about the vegetables, fruits and herbs that would have grown in English gardens in the 1500s. The garden was featured in last week’s Valley Gardens.

GARDEN WORKSHOP: Learn about seed saving, beneficial insects, how to determine when vegetables are ripe, and planning for fall and winter gardening in a workshop Sunday at Wild Browse Farm and Sustainability Center in Wendell from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fee is $25 and enrollment is limited to 10 people. Call 978-544-6347 or register at wildbrowsesustainability@gmail.com.

SUMMER WILDFLOWERS: Take a walk through Podick Swamp in Amherst on Aug. 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to learn about summer-blooming wildflowers. Nancy Goodman leads the walk under the auspices of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment. Fee is $20 and registration is required. Call 256-6006.

HYPERTUFA: Master Gardener Deb Hamm will lead a hands-on workshop on creating hypertufa containers out of peat moss, perlite and Portland cement on Aug. 24 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke. The morning session is filled. Fee is $25 and pre-registration by tomorrow is required online at wistariahurst.org or by calling 322-5660.

TOMATO FESTIVAL: The annual Tomato Festival at Redfire Farm in Granby is Aug. 24 from noon to 5 p.m. and will feature live music, crafts, cooking demonstrations, kids activities, tomato tastings. Admission $5, children ages 12 and under are free. For details and directions to the farm go to redfirefarm.com.

ORCHARDING: Alan Suprenant offers a workshop on home orcharding on Aug. 25 in Ashfield at Brook Farm orchard. Fee is $85. Register at alansurprenant@hotmail.com or call 625-9615.

CATERPILLARS: Everyone loves colorful butterflies, but few appreciate their larval stage: caterpillars. Learn about these creepy, crawly critters on Aug. 25 during a presentation at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston. The program, by naturalist Samuel Jaffe, will introduce you to the beauty of caterpillars and their special techniques to protect themselves from predators such as birds. Jaffe will have live caterpillars on display and microscopes to study them. The program is free with garden admission: $12 for adults and $7 for children ages 6-18. Children under age 6 are free. For more information go to www.towerhillbg.org.

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