Friday, September 12, 2008

War of Weeds

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Poison. Fire. Whacking. Yanking. Imported goats.
It’s an all-out war with formidable foes and Las Crucens are using diverse weapons of mass destruction.
A former neighbor took a blow torch to his, after waiting until his enemies grew tall and strong, lurking in surly, tenacious groups from the back patio to the front yard and spilling out into the curb strips. Maybe he figured he was picking on opponents close to his own size, so the violent fire power was justified. After all, he was clearly out-numbered.
Our conscientious janitor Bobby resorted to a substance that reminded me of the Vietnam-era Agent Orange excesses. One undiluted, full-tilt toxic attack upon encroaching forces cleared the interior, as coughing employees streamed out of the building. But one foe lingered defiantly by the back door, and still appeared to be in blooming good health a few weeks later. Others have established strong outposts in the parking lot, sometimes emerging from their subterranean barracks to break through blacktop and concrete.
Last week, I watched my neighbor Lois as she quietly, neatly — even artistically — disciplined her burgeoning enemies, while she trimmed the borders of her pretty little green patch of lawn with a weed whacker.
One of my former newsroom colleagues adopted a goat to help her cope with hers.
Auggh! Weeds, weeds, everywhere! What can you say about the ubiquitous bumper crop of 2008? What can you do about them?
After monitoring the battles of others, I’ve adopted a low-tech green approach. I pull them out by the roots, doing my best to keep after them on a daily, or at least a weekly, basis.
Tempting as it is to grab a hunk en route to the mail box or on the way to the door after work, after a few encounters with dangerously prickly insurgents, I try to remember to always grab a pair of gloves first.
And I am learning to heed the advice of an amiga who cleared her surly backyard jungle this year: “Never wear cheap gardening gloves.”
I wore a double pair of the flimsier kind to clear out a patch of weeds around my pretty blue yucca, which may have decided I was mounting a clear-earth offensive. I ran afoul of a very efficient defensive stalk-tip spike, and learned that one quick yucca jab could fill my thin gloves with enough blood for a vampire cocktail party.
Gardening may be a calming hobby, but weeding can be a blood sport.
So now I keep my new, heavy duty leather gloves with reinforced palms by the door when I head out to do battle. And I have abandoned my plan to hire small neighborhood kids to yank weeds, my grandparents’ strategy. They paid us a penny per weed. With inflation, the going rate would probably bankrupt me, anyway.
And I wouldn’t want to put tots in harm’s way. Some of the stuff tenacious enough to thrive in the desert comes with everything from barbs and hooks to a kind of organic Velcro. There can be some nasty bugs and critters lurking and buzzing among the weeds, too.
After weeks and months of the infestation, the intensity of the war still comes as a surprise to many of us who moved to high desert country to escape such trials.
And it seems especially unfair if we sacrificed green lawns for rockscapes. I purchased yards of supposedly weed-proof fabric, a wheelbarrow and truckloads of paver slabs and pretty, rose-colored rock to surround my adobe abode and hired two separate crews in recent years to install it all artistically.
My son gave me a leaf blower, which I faithfully used to wrangle leaves and debris so weeds could not gain a toehold...or roothold.
But this year’s one-two punch of dust storms followed by months of muggy monsoons clearly foiled our best-laid weed-proof rockscape plans.
I noticed this week that the only places weeds are not growing are in the enriched, fertilized, mulch-topped soil of my two narrow planting beds and container gardens. Go figure.
I’ve also noticed that the most diligent weeders fight a losing battle if your patch of land is surrounded by neighbors who are less conscientious. Are we our brother’s keepers and neighbors’ weeders? Should we organize neighborhood posses and devise strategic plans?
But some days, I must confess, I look out at strangely green Picacho Peak and the newly emerald Organ Mountains with awe and wonder. I squint a little and pretend I am in the hills of Ireland or in the pre-cattle, pre-population-explosion olden days when, we are told, much of New Mexico was verdant meadows and plains, rivers of grass studded with roaming buffalo.
Maybe it’s time to bring back the bison herds.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at, (575) 541-5450

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