The older I get, the harder the battles seem to be.
I can handle the hairy galinsoga that infiltrates my vegetable garden every summer. I cover the garden with layers of newspapers around the plants and between the rows and mulch heavily with straw. Sometimes I lay black plastic in the planting rows, cut slits where I want to place a plant and keep the weeds from ever seeing the light of day.
I can eliminate a wayward pokeweed that sprouts alongside the grapes and I can cut down the deadly nightshade that thinks I won't notice it mingling with the raspberries. Even the ever-winding bindweed that tries to strangle my roses and tangle with the clematis gives up after I pull it up so many times during the year.
But a new battle has emerged the last few years and as time goes on, I have an ominous feeling I might be losing this one. My current adversary is Cirsium arvense or Canada thistle. For those in the know, I can almost hear the gasps.
How this nasty weed made its way to my front garden, I have no idea. A few years ago, I noticed a few stalks growing through the center of the creeping juniper. The juniper, minding its own business, hugs the ground and as long as I keep it trimmed, otherwise stays within its boundaries. The thistle, however, grows straight upward after its initial emergence as a whirl. There were a few thistles here and there, so I simply donned my gardening gloves and pulled them out, grabbing low on the stems where the thorns weren't as biting.
They came out easily, almost too easy, in fact, giving up their roots from the soil as if they were anxious for their fate. Little did I know how they were plotting underground. That first year of dealing with the thistle, I even felt a little smug about how well I overcame this weed.
By the second year, the plant came back and I noticed its numbers had increased. But I remembered how easily they pulled out the year before and commenced to doing the same. By the third year, I decided it was time to mulch.
Nothing gets through the layers of newspaper and mulch in my gardens. Not the ground ivy or the broadleaf plantain or even the stubborn horseweed.
''This will take care of the thistle,'' I told the husband.
The husband and I aren't getting any younger. Years ago, we would spend several days laying newspaper and spreading yards and yards of mulch over several garden beds. The numbers of garden beds have dwindled over the years and the time spent working in the hot sun these days requires several more, not to mention longer, breaks.
But we persevered and after a while, the job was finished and we were able to take our last break to admire our handiwork. The moist, dark mulch looked lovely against the green shrubs and plants. The newspaper layers and thick mulch would keep weeds out for the rest of the summer. Only touch-ups would be needed next year and by the time the job needed to be done again, we just might be more willing to give in and hire help.
But something strange started to occur just a few weeks after all the work was finished. The thistles were back. They couldn't have come in with the mulch; they had to have pushed their way up through the newspaper layers. And not only were they back, but they were back with a vengeance. It was only then that I realized what I had done. By pulling them up, I was breaking the main plant off of the hundreds of roots that were still growing beneath the soil surface. As they broke from the roots below, the plant became more determined to live and not just live, but to reproduce enough offspring that any attempt toward eradication would be answered with more and more plants pushing their way above the surface. It is robo-weed, terminator-weed and Orc-weed, all rolled into one.
I learned many disturbing things while researching Canada thistle. Once established, it spreads quickly and can choke out all other plants. It is listed as a noxious weed throughout the United States and it can grow to five feet tall.
But here's the scary part. Plants can produce an average of 1,500 to 5,000 seeds, each. Seeds are dispersed by the wind and can remain viable in the soil for up to 20 years. Plants have fibrous taproots that have spreading, horizontal roots. Small pieces of roots can (and do) grow into new plants.
I think I am battling a monster.