Return of the Weed — Purslane

The purslane is back. As I’ve mentioned before (“Weeding Your Garden“, July 27, 2011), I consider this particular weed a garden scourge. I worked hard to eradicate it from my garden and thought I was successful, but it has returned with a vengeance.

A new purslane plant

Purslane has a long taproot and tolerates poor soil and drought conditions. It’s ideally suited for my landscape. A succulent, purslane is resistant to most herbicides used in home gardens. It can propagate from little stem and leaf pieces left behind after pulling it. Its small yellow flowers can bloom throughout the year, any time after a rain or good watering, and quickly release dozens of seeds and they can remain viable for 40 years.

Purslane is not native to my neighborhood. My previous garden was inundated with it and I spent many hours pulling the prostrate plants because no other method of weed control is as effective. When I brought some transplants from that garden to the one I have now, purslane seeds tagged along.

Purslane invading onions

Soon after putting those transplants in my new garden, purslane would occasionally pop up nearby and I was quick to eliminate it. I thought it was effectively eradicated because it’s been more than a year since I pulled the last plant. Then I literally stumbled into a seldom-traveled section of my garden and discovered it covering the ground. With its detested image burned in my mind I searched to determine its range and soon found it in the prairie grass outside of my garden borders too.

Without my immediate effort to take control, I could imagine it taking over and running rampant through the landscape. I pulled every plant I found and scoured the yard for every possible foothold. Most importantly, I’ve repeated this effort every day since the first discovery.

Purslane is not a good candidate for the compost pile. The possibility of plant pieces or seeds finding their way into other garden areas through the compost is too great. Discarding it is the only option. Rather than throw it in the trash, I decided to let the chickens take care of the problem. Purslane is eaten in many areas of the world as a nutritious salad vegetable and my chickens loved it.

There are many weeds that can quickly take over a garden. We’ve all seen fields covered by dandelions and know they can be difficult to eliminate from a lawn or flower bed. It takes dedication, work, and often years to remove their presence. And even when it appears a weed is gone, it can return without constant dedication and vigilance.

I’d grown a bit complacent when it comes to purslane in my garden. My vegetable and flower beds are as weed-free as they can be because I pull little weeds when they first sprout in the mulch. The paths between my raised beds and the areas surrounding them aren’t so clean. Weeds grow with more freedom in those spots and I deal with them all at once every month or two in the summer. That’s how purslane crept in so quickly.

Now I have to be more proactive if I want to stay ahead of this invasion. The best way to eradicate a weed is to keep it from flowering and going to seed. When all of the weed seeds that are already in the soil sprout and begin to grow, kill or remove them before they can reproduce. There may be thousands of seeds that make the effort, but when the last one is gone the entire species is gone. If a single weed is allowed to set seed, the whole weed control process has to begin again.

I have no idea how many seeds are out there. Purslane seeds don’t germinate when they’re buried deep in the ground. Tilling and turning over the soil brings dormant seeds to the surface to sprout and that normal gardening activity is bound to introduce more weeds into my garden. There are many days of pulling ahead.

Walking through my garden is a daily activity. I check for new growth, flowers, vegetables, and fruit every day. Now those normal tasks join with purslane detection. I’ve resolved to eliminate it. It won’t be easy, but it is necessary.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve tried roudup and 2d 4, and another product that was supposed to kill the creeping
    beggarweed without any results…too many to pull by hand!!! Any suggestions…the seeds are terrible..stick to animals and clothing….

    Reply

    • For the weeds that don’t respond to herbicides about the only recourse is to pull them or smother them. In open areas I like to use a stirrup hoe for young seedlings and plants (here’s a link to my article about that: http://gardenerscott.blogspot.com/2011/07/weeding-your-garden_27.html ) You can use it standing up and it rips out most surface weeds. Another option in some landscapes is to cover an invested area with a large sheet of black plastic; leave it on through the summer to completely sterilize the area. Once weeds with a deep taproot, like beggarweed, become established it’s very hard to control. You can try to dig or pull the weed but it will be hard to eradicate it (digging is better than pulling). Be sure to get rid of as much of the plant as you can before it sets seed. The best way to attempt control is to use a post-emergent herbicide to kill the young weeds before they grow. If it’s in turf, keep the turf healthy and well-watered. By digging out adult plants and eliminating young plants before they grow, you may eventually get rid of it. Good luck.

      Reply

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