Are the Weeds in Your Yard Your Fault?
Of course they are.
Because of evolution. Do you know where the greatest concentration of highly antibiotic resistant bacteria live? Hospitals. Why? Because of evolution. This is one thing that many people, just don’t understand. Even, unfortunately, doctors are not immune to this.
Let me describe the bacteria situation, then describe how and why it also affects your yard and then we can explore what to do about it.
Everyone knows the doctor tells us to take all the antibiotics even if we feel better. Why is that? Well, the bacteria that are making you sick are just like humans. Even though they may be the same species of bacteria, they come in many varieties. Just like humans. Some are stronger and tougher than others, some reproduce faster, some can survive in weird situations. That variety is what we call diversity within a species.
When you take antibiotics, the weakest bacteria (those most susceptible to the antibiotic) die quickly, maybe even after one or two doses. As I mentioned, some of those bacteria are made of sterner stuff and will not die even after a dozen doses. If you stop after a dozen doses of antibiotic, then which bacteria are left in your system to reproduce? Right, the strong ones. There may not be many left, but you and your doctor have killed off the competition and these are stronger bacteria. So you will get sick again, and the antibiotics might not help this time because most of the bacteria in you are survivors of the last round and they laugh at antibiotics.
This is why hospitals have such strong bacterial populations. Some of the bacteria literally live in a soup of dozens of antibiotics. Only the bacteria can survive in those environments are left, but they survived and are now, quite comfortable in some of the most inhospitable (no pun intended) environments for bacteria. [Look up superbugs on wiki for more info http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antibiotic_resistance%5D
Yards and Weeds
Now, what about the weeds in your yard? Same thing… you preferentially select the weeds that are best able to survive in your yard. You kill off everything you can and the weeds that survive, reproduce.
Most people do the same thing year after year. The same chemical, the same fertilizer, the same weeding technique. You’re just making the weeds that survive stronger. If you miss even one plant, it will be back and will be tougher and tougher every year.
I got to thinking about this while mowing for the first time this year and here are a few of the scenarios I considered.
Clovers and other ground cover
First clovers and really good for your lawn, they replace nitrogen in the soil, which other plants use for growth. This prevents you having to fertilize. However, most people want pure grass in their yard and clovers are thick, hard to mow, and very short plants. And that’s the key to their survival.
If you follow the standard rules of mowing, then you should be mowing using a higher setting on your lawn mower. This gives you better grass cover, better water retention, and you have to mow less often. On the other hand, a high setting on the lawn mower means you may miss some of the shorter clover. They just get hit with a blast of air as the blade passes a quarter inch over them.
Short clovers and other ground covers preferentially survive in your yard. Soon, all the clovers are shorter than your normal mowing height and they take over.
Let me pause a second here to talk about something very important in evolution. It only matters what happens to you before you have children. Once you have had all your children, you are evolutionarily dead. So as long as the plants reproduce before you do whatever it is you do to them, they have survived. You can cut, poison, burn, whatever… as long as those seeds were made, then the weeds will be back.
So as long as the clover reproduce while they are shorter than your average mow height, you’ll have an invasion of clover.
Have you ever saved a weed from the mower? You knew it was a weed, but it had a pretty flower on it, so you saved it. Congrats, you have just preferentially selected weeds with pretty flowers. In my experience, weeds with pretty flowers generally also have spines or thorns and are very resistant to the mower. But that’s OK, you have a few pretty flowers… and you’ll have many, many more next year.
Weeds that Pop-up Quickly
Yesterday afternoon your yard was the perfect place of soft grass, this morning it’s choked with 2 foot tall weeds. How did that happen? You made it happen.
How often do you mow or fertilize or weed? Every time you mow, you are selecting weeds that reproduce faster than you mow. If you cut the plant down before it produces seed, then good job. You’ve killed that plant and all future plants that would descend from it. But if it already produced seeds, then it doesn’t matter what you do now.
If you mow every two weeks, then you are preferentially selecting for weeds that germinate, grow, and reproduce in less than two weeks. Pretty soon, you’ll have some fast growing weeds in your hard.
Weed killers are exactly the same situation as the antibiotics. If the poison doesn’t kill every plant before it reproduces (or kill the seeds too), then you are selecting for superweeds.
Oh Crap, Now What Do I Do?
Fortunately, evolutionary principles give us some tools to help out with our problems. We can do the same things to our weeds that HIV patients do to their viral infection. Hit it hard, with many different things, then change it up after a month or two.
Consider those pop-ups I mentioned. They appear really fast and grow fast and reproduce fast. These plants must have an accelerated metabolism. They need lots of nutrients and must bring lots of water and sunlight to grow so fast. So use that against them. This is when you use the poisons. They grow so fast, that they will intake lots and lots of poison. If it’s a halfway decent chemical, then it will not only kill the plant, but interfere with its reproductive system and stop them right in their tracks.
What about the pretty flowering weeds? Simple. Kill them. Plant some perennials that do well in the local environment and have pretty flowers. Don’t give the weeds a chance. We just spread a couple pounds of various flower seeds out at the beginning of the season. Those, I mow around. Plus, they will use up some of the nutrients that the weeds like.
Also consider not investing in one of the ‘designer’ grasses. They are like heavily inbred species of cats or dogs. They look nice, but require a lot of work to keep them up. Ask someone at a local nursery what an appropriate grass type is for your yard. Bring them a soil sample, tell them how often you water. Then ask for the toughest, least maintenance grass they have that will work. You save watering, mowing, and it’s environmentally friendly. It may not be the lush, deep green of your neighbor, but you can sit inside with a beer watching the game, while he spends the whole weekend taking care of his $15 per square foot grass.
Change the fertilizer, chemicals, and plants that you plant each year. Don’t give the weeds a chance to get used to anything. Vary your mowing times. One Thursday night, just for the heck of it… mow real fast. Then you have the whole weekend to play.
Finally, encourage the local wildlife to be in your yard. Natural predators are much more effective than any chemical, poison, or even mowing. A family of bunnies can eat a lot of plants in a little time. Many fast growing weeds require a lot of light, so plant some trees. Any spots that don’t have grass, need to be planted with grass or mulched.
I hope that helps you. Remember, use science to your advantage. Evolution works, use it to your advantage.