August 4, 2011 at 8:30 a.m.

Weeds; that was then, this is now

Weeds; that was then, this is now
Weeds; that was then, this is now

Emerson once said "a weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." Over the years some weeds have become valuable and some plants used in formal landscape are now considered invasive.

An example is milkweed. One of my first memories of making money was when my dad helped me pick milkweed pods for the war effort. One Sunday afternoon we picked six grain sacks full of pods in the river bottoms. They used the artificial silk to fill life jackets. In those years that was the only thing milkweed was good for because they were a real problem in grain fields.

Farmers still may consider milkweed a problem but with crops being sprayed with herbicides and fence lines becoming extinct, it's up to gardeners to protect this plant. I try to save all the milkweeds I can knowing that the monarch butterfly depends on the flower as their main diet getting ready to migrate south.

Another change in perception is Virginia creeper. When I was teaching in Minneapolis a fellow teacher asked me if I would find some Virginia creeper in our area. She had just put up a retaining wall and she wanted to cover the wall with vines. I stopped at the Lindstrom Nursery and bought forty of them from Ralph Peterson and hauled them a few at a time to Minneapolis. It's a beautiful vine that looks like grapes. The problem is that they grow too fast and not long after my purchase, it became illegal to sell them because they are invasive.

Another change in attitude is toward a shrub called buckthorn. By now almost everyone knows something about this shrub. Master Gardeners get a lot of calls about buckthorn, mostly how to get rid of it. Common buckthorn grows to a height of about 20 feet and should not be confused with plum trees. A distinguishing characteristic is that the leaves stay dark green on the tree well into the winter, after most trees and shrubs have turned color and shed their leaves.

It was brought from Europe in the mid 1800's and used as a hedging material and grows just about any place where it is not disturbed. It spreads rapidly because the birds eat the seeds which act also as a laxative throughout the area. It's hard to believe that up until a few years ago, certain kinds of buckthorn could be purchased in landscaping nurseries. But just as Virginia creeper, not anymore.

Visit the Chisago County Master Gardeners on Facebook and look for us at the Almelund Threshing Show August 12-14, 2011. We are located on the northeast end of the Threshing Show grounds in our authentic pioneer building. We will offer educational displays and are staffed to answer all your yard and garden questions.


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