Untamed, wild garlic can drive gardeners wild

One of the most persistent weeds of Island gardenscapes, wild garlic, aka onion grass, is a weedy member of the Onion family. — Photo by Susan Safford

Spring is slowly spreading over the Vineyard, awakening the grass, making lambs dance, and filling the air with birdsong. The rainfall of last week refreshed dry woodlands and has helped to swell buds and growth of all vegetation. Earth Day, April 22, will be upon us shortly.

“We have to challenge the idea that contamination is just the price of living in the modern world. Our bodies don’t have systems to process plastics or flame retardants or pesticides. If contamination is the price of modern society, modern society has failed us.” – Russell Libby, 1956-2012

Each of us has the capacity to think and learn, and to be aware of our actions and their consequences. Each spring offers release from winter’s gloom, fresh wonder, a fresh chance, and renewed enjoyment of life outdoors. We have the opportunity to increase our understanding of our place on earth, and to use our time on it as wisely as we can.

All things are interconnected.

Everything goes somewhere.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Nature bats last.

Rain barrel project

A change in plan makes the Lagoon Pond Association rain barrels available for pickup Saturday, April 20, at A Gallery, across from Eden. Pick-up time has been extended, from 10 am to 3 pm. Extras have been ordered, if you missed the online order deadline.

Celebrating Earth Day year-round, rainwater harvesting has multiple advantages: protecting our ponds from run-off pollution; growing healthy plants using nitrogen-rich rainwater; conserving our sole-source aquifer and reducing water bills; controlling moisture levels around house foundations; and lastly, providing non-potable water during power outages. You will love having a rain barrel(s)!

In the Garden

Waking up the garden entails a lot of cleaning-house, albeit outside. Similarly to cleaning one’s house, where using chemical cleaners may harm oneself and family, using harmful chemicals in one’s garden contaminates personal space outdoors.

Trimming, pruning, weeding, and picking-up: the debris all belongs in a compost pile, if possible. A thin layer of the harvested material — compost — can alter problem areas of lawn and make a beneficial difference in nutrient and moisture retention of garden soils, both ornamental and vegetable. (And of course, it sequesters carbon.)

One of the most persistent weeds of Island gardenscapes is wild garlic, the wild member of the Onion family also called onion grass, and botanically Allium vineale. It is evident now, since “it is a cool season plant that grows vigorously in spring and early summer, dies back in July, and reappears in fall,” according to “Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast,” by Peter Del Tredici (Cornell University Press, 2010). Although not yet on the list of Roundup-resistant weeds, wild garlic is headed that way.

Thin thread-like foliage in clumps characterizes wild garlic, whether in lawns or beds, and numerous pearl-sized bulbs nestle in the soil underneath. Along with other nuisance plants, wild garlic is often transferred to gardens in root balls of nursery stock, and sometimes in mulches. It is a pest, but please be consoled that onion grass is a symptom weed of rich, good soils, and it can be used as an onion substitute.

Wild garlic is virtually impossible to pull — the plant is tenacious — unless the soil is very loose and friable. The tops may come out in your hand, maybe even some of the bulbs, but more bulbs assuredly remain in the soil, ready to commence re-growth. This is a weed that needs to be dug. Loosen the area with a hand fork, or dig with small trowel or spade, and search in the hole for the “pearls” that fall back into it.

According to “Weeds of the Northeast,” (Uva, Neal, and DiTomaso, Cornell University Press, 1997) wild garlic often produces aerial bulblets at the top of the stem in place of flowers, which develop long tail-like green leaves. They eventually topple and germinate after coming in contact with soil.

Mulching wild garlic-infested areas of the garden is a way to make digging the weed out easier. Concentrating on working to rid the garden of it in spring, when soils are moist, is also effective.

Division as weeding

When wild garlic or other difficult perennial weeds contaminate the crowns of perennials, more laborious approaches are needed. Dig and lift the whole plant carefully, and then tease out the wild garlic. It may be necessary to divide the perennial on the spot, pick out the wild garlic, and replant it either in single pieces or back together.

This is a good time for dividing many perennials, in any case. They are just starting into growth, making locating them easier, and April usually has adequate rain and cloudy weather to facilitate the plants’ weathering the shock of division.

At this time, mark clumps of bulbs that need dividing after the foliage dies down, to prevent confusion when locating them later. Everyone seems to have a cell phone or pocket camera. Snap a photo of the location and make a memory aid for additional bulb planting, come fall.

Enrich the planting holes with compost, add a little balanced organic (i.e., non-burning) fertilizer, and water in well. If drainage is not as good as it should be, mix sharp sand, or even pea stone, into the planting hole at this time. Various additives to water are often used to help plants re-establish quickly, such as dilute teas of manure, compost, or comfrey; water with a tablespoon of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion added per gallon; or various proprietary mycorrhizal products.

Polly Hill Arboretum: Taking the Fear out of Pruning, April 20, 10 am.

Vineyard Gardens lecture series, Fruit Trees: Which Do Well, April 20

***Well-wishes to victims of the Patriots Day bombing.***