It is the bane of our flagship garden, The Urban Farmstead, and it has likely touched your life in similar ways. Bad ways. Insurmountably difficult ways. Or perhaps you have surmounted, but I do not hyperbolize, because I, your urban farmer with all the answers guy, find oxalis absolutely impossible to beat.
Oxalis, also known as wood sorrel, somewhat resembles clover, in that above ground it is three leaves atop a thin stalk, usually in a clump with hundreds of thousands of like creatures. It is easy to pick out because the leaves are more triangular than rounded. Usually oxalis is green, but purple varieties are out there in the world as well, and are often available for purchase at garden centers. You are probably nodding your head in recognition about now. If not, then you may as well skip the rest of this writing, as you live a life blissfully ignorant of oxalis’ trespasses.
To clarify, I have no solutions for you today. This is more of a support group style entry. I just want you to know that if oxalis has taken over your lawn or garden, you are not alone, I am here with you, though we’re far apart, you’re always in my heart.
Just kidding, I probably don’t even know you. I just want to grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, and oxalis is one of them. You can’t change it, but you sure can eat it!
That’s right, it turns out this noxious and indestructible weed is not only edible, but downright delicious. They taste like lemony grapes and are a wonderful addition to any salad. Southbound Gardens sells our purple oxalis to restaurants for primo dolares because it’s that delicious and fetching. Apparently you can make a pretty tasty tea reminiscent of lemonade with the leaves as well.
When life gives you oxalis, make a drink reminiscent of lemonade.
There are some out there who would have you believe oxalis is a nitrogen fixer and thus a boon to your garden. I am sorry to say it is not so. Firstly oxalis is not a nitrogen fixer, it just takes takes takes. Nextly, just because a plant is a nitrogen fixer doesn’t mean you want it growing alongside all the other plants you are trying to grow. Nitrogen fixers still steal nutrients from the plants you always wanted to grow.
Weeding oxalis is near impossible; the tiny nut-like nodules that constitute oxalis roots pretty much never come up with the rest of the plant when you tug at them, and if you do not pull up that little guy when you pull up the leafy bits, more leafy bits will come.
Fear not, there is light somewhere in this tunnel. Oxalis doesn’t hang out all year long. It tends to pop up in the autumn and disappear in the spring, just in time to be replaced with all sorts of other horrible weeds. Also, if we luck into a freeze, all of the oxalis will shrivel up and die immediately, never to be seen again, for eight months or so.
I began writing this 4 days ago and then got preoccupied, but in the days since we have been blessed with the very freeze I have mentioned. I spent the morning at the Farmstead fumbling about a harvest with chilly wet fingers, delighting in the limp state of the sea of oxalis around me, though admittedly slightly nervous for the wellbeing of some of our more desirable plants.
We’ll find out tomorrow if I am hyperbolizing the power frost holds over oxalis. Even if it remains, fear not, for again, oxalis if an ethereal sort of weed. It will not remain forever, but it will come again.
We at Southbound Gardens resort to our flame thrower, or to professional horticulturists our ‘weed torch’, when things get too out of hand. It is a winning substitute for broadleaf herbicides, which you should never ever ever use for any reason other than that you wish only ill will towards the universe and all the creatures therein.
I hope this has helped, or at least comfortably resigned you to the present state of affairs in your food garden. If you are burdened with the weight of oxalis, you do not bear the weight alone. Stand tall and persevere like the kale pictured below.
To call it grass is too kind. Grass is a thing that people like to have in their yards, present company excluded. Make no mistake, grass is an unnecessary evil, but it is a light sniffle beside the chronic bronchitis that is Nutsedge.
This weed was never meant to be ours, it was bred in Egypt as a crop once upon a time and somehow found its way into the New World long enough ago that we consider it a native plant these days. I have been told it was introduced to the mainland by way of farmers unintentionally dredging up nutsedge laden silt from the sea to use in their agricultural practice, but I can’t verify this and refuse to do all but the most cursory research in defense of this fact. The plant can now be found throughout the United States, but lucky us, it is perfectly suited to our climate, so here in New Orleans it reigns supreme throughout the Summer months.
It’s roots, or more accurately tubers, look like tiny nuts and are very difficult to pull from the soil. You can catch some, but you cannot catch them all, not every time, not any time. It will prevail. That nutsedge was once considered a food crop in more than a few nations is unfathomable to me. It is so difficult enough to weed, I cannot imagine that it provides enough sustenance to make up for the calories lost and the stress levels gained through harvest. It is said to taste a bit like nutmeg, and is a common ingredient in horchata, one of my favorite drinks. This does not make it any better in my book. It should be destroyed.
Alas, it cannot be destroyed. Not only are those tubers near impossible to effectively eliminate, but the blades of grass that it shoots forth into the sky are razor sharp and seem to grow inches each day. They can and will cut through mulch, landscape fabric, cardboard, or whatever else you lay atop it to curb its growth and photosynthetic activity. Worse, the tubers do a great job of sending out roots and building networks that can weasel their way into your garden beds with ease. Those god-forsaken tubers are a little bit easier to coax out of soft, pliable soils, the sort of soil your garden bed ought to have, so their spread can be mitigated if caught early. Mind you, I choose the word mitigated with purpose. It will not be controlled, it will not be destroyed, it will only be mitigated.
Even Round-Up has proven only somewhat effective against nutsedge. It cannot be destroyed, but it must be mitigated, else it will cover all that you know and love throughout the hot months.
Beyond the hot months rests the silver lining in this unfathomable kingdom of nutsedge. It does go dormant as the heat of Summer abates. In our case, that may well not be until mid-November, but the sedge will seem to disappear once temperatures drop a bit, and you will be able to breath easy for about two days before the Dollarweed moves in and takes over the weed scene.
The extremely persistent gardener might manage to eradicate nutsedge from their garden after a few seasons of militant weeding, but for most of us it is an unavoidable that must be lived with Summer after sweltering Summer. I tell you this not to dishearten you, but to let you know that you are not alone and you have done nothing wrong. We all deal with nutsedge and we likely always will. Breathe easy, we’re all in this together, forever.
Weeds are an evil that cannot be altogether contained in a place like New Orleans in a time like July. They will exist despite your best efforts to stifle them with fresh dirt and any or all of the mulches, be they cardboard, plastic, landscape fabric, or wood chips. Even if you lay concrete over your gardens, it’s going to crack before long, or a bit of dirt will accumulate in that not quite even spot, and there will be weeds. There will be weeds.
And you must weed them. And if you want to weed them less later, weed them better now.
I heard tell from a certain celebrity chef in New Orleans of a yardman who defined weeding as the spraying of weeds with Round-Up. He also swore up and down that Round-Up was totally organic. I am certain this yardman was being honest to the best of his knowledge on both fronts, though whether one should consider themselves a yardman if their knowledge is so limited as this is very questionable.
Weeding does not happen with round-up. Weeds are killed, but so is everything else you love about your garden, especially its heart. Also, Round-up is extremely not organic. It is far less organic than genetically modified foodstuffs. Leave it alone if you care about your soul, or the soul of the universe, which your soul is arguably a part of if you go for that all one Gaia principle on a cosmic scale stuff.
You can plow and rip at the soil to take care of your weeds if you like, till hard, turn the soil, refresh the earth. It will look gorgeous for a few days, but a few days after that you will likely find more weeds than you had the first time around, for you will have unearthed millions upon millions of weed seeds that had lay dormant beneath your garden soil before.
What then, if you cannot till and you cannot spray, can you possibly do? Get on your hands and knees and pull. Pull the weeds up, grab them close to the soil, tug gently but firmly, learn to feel for the loosening of the roots underground so that you may release the entire plant from its mortal coil rather than give it a measly haircut. It is an art form at least as subtle as fly-fishing, and its rewards are many, if less immediately tangible than a filet on the dinner plate.
Pull with your hands and know the soil, learn what lies there, learn what thrives and what withers, and learn how to make what you want to thrive do it’s very best by being there next to it.
Weed frequently. If you allow your weeds to grow tall and put out seed, you will have to conquer their children who will be many and ever so slightly more adapted to your garden. Weed before you allow your weeds to plant their roots so deep that you cannot pull them out with a firm flick of the wrist, or even a bodily tug. Weed often and you will find that as the seasons go on you will not have to weed so often. This is an IRA for your garden, invest now.
And finally, if you have been to the Urban Farmstead or any of our other gardens, remember to do as I say, not as I do.
Ian writes these. Fearlessly.