Monday, July 21, 2008

It ain't summer if I'm not battling crabgrass

As the headline says, it ain't summer if I'm not out there battling crabgrass.

Not with herbicides, mind you. No, I'm down on my hands and knees plucking those suckers from the ground, from the garden, from crevices in the driveway, cracks in the walkway and tucked beneath the pea and green bean plants. I growl at them, grimace as I grab the roots and yank them out, enjoy the passing power of ripping it from its home, tempered by the realization that my victory is fleeting at best.

If I were really smart, I'd prepare by following some simple guidelines that knowledgeable gardeners have come up with.

Instead, I stew. But I also have developed a grudging admiration for the little devil.

Consider the general attributes of
Digitaria ischaemum: It is a fierce competitor, a plant that can root in poor soil or rich, grows quickly and appears to do best when it's hot and dry – periods when other plants are stressed and weak. It seeds prolifically and colonizes new areas with startling rapidity.

Consider its structure: After a crabgrass seedling thrusts its roots into the soil , its shoots fan out like spokes on a wheel, hugging the ground as they radiate outward. The effect, at least to me, seems clear: The shoots blanket the surrounding plant life, literally asphyxiating it by blocking the sunlight.

Consider its staying power: It grows feverishly in hot, dry weather, as I mentioned above, a double advantage when you consider crabgrass seems to strengthen in just the kind of weather that causes other grasses and plants to wither. Once it roots, it is hell to pull out. Ever tried? Pull at the "spokes," and you'll get a fistful of grass, while leaving the center "spoke" intact. And that center will grow back, just as hardily as before. The key, I've found, is to grip the center bulb, dig your fingers into the soil around it to gain leverage, and to tug slowly, taking care to extract the entire bulb and the roots dangling from the bottom. If you miss the roots, you won't remove the crabgrass.

So, here we have a summertime scourge that carpets and kills that fine grass you've been growing, overruns your vegetable and flower gardens, likes it hot and dry, and is a royal pain in the rump to pull out.

Yet I can't help but admire it for being such a fine competitor, engineered to do best when other species are at their worst and designed to literally snuff out its opponents. It's fascinating, really.

Still, I'd be happier if I could pull all those plugs and be done with them.

Won't happen. If it's summer, then I've got crabgrass.

No comments: