Public enemy number two: Goutweed

    Also called bishop’s weed and occasionally known locally and unfairly as Germantown weed, goutweed is a familiar albeit unwelcome presence in many gardens of Northwest Philly.

    Editor’s note: With gardening, and weed season now in full swing Nicole has assembled a list of Ground Level’s least wanted weeds in Northwest Philadelphia. Though clearly still weeds in the rest of the city, some of these, like the one below, have notable roots in the Northwest. So, enjoy some sympathy and advice in dealing with these garden villains.

    Also called bishop’s weed and occasionally known locally and unfairly as Germantown weed, goutweed is a familiar albeit unwelcome presence in many gardens of Northwest Philly.

    In the same family as the carrot, this European native forms a dense mat of foliage, particularly in shadier spots. The June flowers resemble Queen Anne’s lace and aren’t bad looking, although they produce lots of seeds. The plant seems to spread mainly by the roots, however; a web of white, branching rhizomes running a few inches below the soil. It is by these roots that the plant can colonize in great patches, and quickly.

    Even a tiny scrap of root has the ability to send out growth and establish a new plant, a quality shared by most of the truly difficult weeds. This is why it is good to exercise caution and even skepticism when accepting plants from other people’s gardens or participating in plant swaps. If even an inch of goutweed root is lurking in that clump of daylilies your neighbor wants to share, you will rue the day you accepted such hospitality.

    Goutweed is a plant that is very hard to eradicate, but it can be managed and occasionally outsmarted. A few years ago, the steeply banked garden in this photo was entirely covered in goutweed. Slopes are difficult to garden anyway, but with the aid of a ladder this gardener cleverly put in plants that are taller, denser, and tougher than the goutweed, which is now interspersed with large swaths of hosta and fern.

    If you want to get rid of patches of this or any other weed, vigilance is the key. Every plant good or bad will give up the ghost eventually if its foliage is removed consistently. Leaves are the solar panels that provide fuel to a plant, and if you take them away sooner or later the roots run out of power and die.

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