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Control What You Plant

A weed is any plant out of place. Some plants, of which we really want one or a few, become much less loveable when we have a few thousand. Here are some of the things I must admit I planted myself, but I now consider weeds since I've seen how they can take over. I know how you will feel if some of these are your favorite flowers. There was a time when they were mine, too. I tolerate and try to control many that are only mildly invasive, but here is my hit list.

Queen palm seedlings have been coming up in our yard since before we arrived. I only recognized the big one early on or I wouldn't have bought five more! I have since decided that I will never again plant any palm that will grow too tall for me to prune. We had all but one of the queen palms removed last spring and I am constantly pulling out or cutting off the thousands of seedlings that continue to come up. They have broad leaves at first and it is best if you can get them in that stage. If not, get them as soon as you can.

I loved four o'clocks up north and planted them every year. In Florida I only planted them once and I've been pulling them up every since. They form big tuberous roots underground, and if you don't get those, they are back in two weeks. They bloom nicely in the evenings in sunny spots and smell wonderful, but that just makes more seeds to spread and then have to pull in both sun and shade. I fight them constantly, but a good friend is dying to get some growing in her yard. Apparently her soil stays to wet. Weeds are whatever you don't want.

When we first came to Florida, I bought a goldenrain tree. Many of these will soon be blooming all over the area and the blooms are followed by decorative pinkish brown seedpods. The goldenrain is definitely a beautiful tree. But mine only bloomed in the top where we never saw the flowers and it was smack dab in the middle of what had then become a main path. So when the tree men came for the first time, I had it cut out. It cost $150 to remove that mistake. Ten year later, I am still pulling up or cutting out seedlings in my yard, and I see them pushing up among the shrubs along our bike route. Being ruthless is a hard job.

The hunderds of black-eyed Susan vines that grow in my yard came from a packet of seeds a dozen years ago. Before I knew it they had overgrown the banana trees. I have gained some control since, and sometimes the golden flowers with their dark centers are so lovely that I leave them for a while. Many of the seedlings have much paler flowers, so they are easy to pull. This one can be useful if controlled, but do pull any extras.

It is hard to believe now that I planted seeds of Emilia, also called tassel-flower, cupid's shaving -brush. My co-author, who had moved north before she saw how they could multiply, suggested them for our book A Cutting Garden for Florida. I've had them since. They really aren't too invasive and are easy to pull, but they aren't too decorative either and can only supply filler material to a bouquet. I still let a few slip by, but I pull them with a harder heart every year. I did put a small warning in the latest edition for the book. Probably it should have been stronger.

The passionflower is one of the hardest and yet most satisfying of the viney weeds to pull. I planted some of this and my plants died, but others came up unbidden and have been taking over everything every since. There are improved and better behaved varieties. Ask careful questions before you buy one or even bring home a cutting. Besides its gorgeous flowers, this weed has such other saving graces as being a favorite of the butterflies, even when not in bloom. Some varieties produce the fruits that go into the making of Hawaiian punch. My friend Charles Novak has these selected vines growing up in his oak trees where they find the light they need and drop their fruits. The vines are easy to pull. The roots come up without too much pull and the vines come free of most shrubs. I just stand and pull and pull and pull.

One more weed I did not plant but greatly admired when I first saw it was the Balsam pear, Momordica charantia, with its fancy compound leaflets having such a fascinating pattern, its little yellow flowers, and its small but gourd-like fruits that turn deep yellow and then open to expose large, bright red seeds. This is treasured up north but much too invasive to leave in our gardens. Pull it out.

(Above) Palm seedlings will come up all over.

(Below left) Four o’clock seedlings have large, shiny leaves and fragrant flowers.
(Below right) So will goldenrain tree seedlings even ten years after the parent tree is gone.