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Eastern-Tailed Blue Butterfly

An Eastern-Tailed Blue Butterfly, a member of the Gossamer-Winged Butterfly Group, lands on clover in the author’s landscape.

A weed is often described as “a plant out of place.” That description is quite broad (and very possibly describes one of my garden berms!). The more complete definition is: a plant growing where it is not wanted, competing with cultivated plants for water and other nutrients.

My simpler definition: a weed is an obnoxious plant.

Dandelions are considered obnoxious by many. Many people, that is. Pollinators might beg to differ. Dandelions can benefit pollinators, such as bees and birds, particularly in early spring when there are limited sources of food.

Another oft-maligned weed is wild violet. Notorious for spreading – everywhere – wild violet also serves as a host plant for fritillary butterfly larvae. And its seeds are attractive to bobwhites and mourning doves, among others. My husband and I have found common ground (pun intended) regarding wild violets. We have allowed a colony to establish in a mulched stepping stone path under one of the maple trees. The area is filled with pretty blue flowers in early spring. Violets in the lawn come under – ahem – a different set of rules.

Does clover fall under your definition of obnoxious plant? Again, pollinators like clover, so maybe it isn’t all bad. I especially enjoy the tiny butterflies that like clover. Look carefully, because they are quite small.

Controlling those obnoxious weeds is a personal choice – and let me point out the word is “control” not “eradicate.” Complete weed eradication is not going to happen.

Fall is the best time for effective control of weeds, reducing their numbers for next year. Weed control can begin in early September and continue through mid-October.

Now, some weeds are worse than others.

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A noxious weed is considered harmful to the environment or animals and may be the subject of government regulations in efforts to control it. Many of these weeds can out-compete our native plants that are so critical to pollinators. Noxious weeds must be eliminated immediately upon discovery, according to the law.

Each state identifies its own noxious weeds (it can be rather shocking to learn a plant in our landscape is a noxious weed in another state). The names and photos of noxious weeds in Nebraska can be found at nda.nebraska.gov/plant/noxious_weeds

With all weeds, the best control is achieved by maintaining a healthy community of the plants you want. Good cultivation practices will help the lawn and other plant material compete against and resist invasion by both noxious and obnoxious weeds.

Mari Lane Gewecke is a Master Gardener volunteer, affiliated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus program, and a self-employed consultant.

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