The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Two bad weeds (and what they tell me)

Ground ivy

Weeds and what they tell usThe hypothesis I often see put forth by the permaculture community is that you can use weeds to discover imbalances in your soil.  When I finally tracked down the best book on the subject, though, I was disappointed.  Since then, I've come to my own conclusions --- problematic weeds are an indicator of issues with your management strategy, not necessarily of problems with the ground underfoot.

Since I tweak my gardening techniques every year, it's no surprise that our worst weeds change with the times.  This year's doozy is a plant that I used to consider barely noticeable --- ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which is pictured above.  My mother enjoys this plant in her garden for its bee-friendly spring flowers, its pleasant aroma, and the way it quickly covers the ground.  Unfortunately, ground ivy wreaks havoc with the mulched areas since it quickly grows amid straw and makes you lose most of your mulch when you rip it out.

Why is ground ivy suddenly a big problem for us?  I only see the weed in the shadier parts of my garden, and primarily during wet years, making me think that there's something about cool, wet conditions that gives ground ivy a foothold over the grass that's supposed to be colonizing the garden aisles.  I can't do anything about the weather, but I can change a management technique that I think has been giving the ground ivy a foothold in the front garden aisles --- weedeating.  Until this summer, Mark was in charge of cutting our "lawn," and he generally opted to weedeat the front garden rather than mow it since the aisles aren't very linear.  However, close cutting can promote ground ivy over grass, especially in shady areas.  Time to commit to mowing instead of whacking the front garden grass!


When I first identified our second troublesome weed of 2014, the book I looked it up in gave it the appellation "devil's racehorse."  I haven't been able to track down the source of that name, and now call the weed by its more common names (quickweed, shaggy soldier, Galinsoga quadriradiata).  But the colorful name that originally made me scratch my head makes so much sense now that I garden --- quickweed will take over a garden lickety split.

While ground ivy is the bane of my existence in the shady front garden, quickweed makes its annoying presence known in the sunny mule garden.  I made the mistake about three years ago of letting a single plant go to seed in a garden bed there, and the result has been nearly endless handweeding of every crop I've grown in that spot thereafter.  The solution here is pretty simple --- whatever you do, don't let quickweed go to seed in your garden!

Have you learned from your garden weeds?  If so, which ones taught you memorable lessons?

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our books.

Or explore more posts by date or by subject.

About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

Want to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.

Can you provide any particular book recommendations for identifying weeds? It seems so many books focus on wild edibles, food for X species, what general book would you recommend (or books?)


Comment by Anonymous Tue Sep 2 13:04:02 2014
Anonymous --- That's a good question. I came into weed identification after already delving very deep into native plant identification, so I generally turn to tomes you wouldn't want to open. However, I do recall reading The Golden Guide to Weeds when I was in high school and finding it very interesting. I can't recall what percentage of the common garden weeds are in it, and I don't have a copy I can look at right now, but that might be a good place to start.
Comment by anna Tue Sep 2 14:48:53 2014

Hi Anna and Mark,

I have read several books and I agree with your conclusions.

Here, I sometimes see a "weed" take over everything only to fade later into nothingness.

A few years ago at the site of a former oak tree, black nightshade took over everything. A year later a few plants were left. Now nothing?

Some folks say it makes good pies. I was not that brave.

I wonder if your weed will just fade once the soil stops supporting it or whatever?


Comment by John Wed Sep 3 09:10:57 2014
we had a problem with a ton of ground ivy. our mistake was not mowing agressively enough.because the stuff grows by runners and if you don't mow often enough the runners overgrow the lawn and kill it. we finally had to manually pull all the ivy in the lawn and seed with new grass to erradicate it. took a couple of years of pulling. it seems like the stuff stays small until it takes off but then, you can't win as it kills the grass.
Comment by Anonymous Thu Sep 4 08:58:28 2014
According to my latest in the foraging category books (Foraged Flavor, Wong & Leroux, 2012) galinsoga has a mild taste, similar to that of peas and can mix well with lambsquarters. Seeing as how it is invasive you can pick all you want :-)
Comment by Lillias Mon Sep 22 16:04:55 2014

profile counter myspace

Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.

Required disclosures:

As an Amazon Associate, I earn a few pennies every time you buy something using one of my affiliate links. Don't worry, though --- I only recommend products I thoroughly stand behind!

Also, this site has Google ads on it. Third party vendors, including Google, use cookies to serve ads based on a user's prior visits to a website. Google's use of advertising cookies enables it and its partners to serve ads to users based on their visit to various sites. You can opt out of personalized advertising by visiting this site.