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This year welcome monsoon season rains have brought summer wildflowers, clouds of butterflies, moths, and mosquitos, cooler temperatures, colorful rainbows .... and volumes of robust weeds!Botanists define a weed as “any plant that is growing where a different kind of plant is wanted, or no plants at all.” Frequent rains have given area weeds a real boost, some whose seeds have germinated after years of waiting for just the right conditions. Then it’s three noticeable leaves one day and a few days later, lush plants a couple of feet high.For example, the family of annual Spurges whose ground-hugging “platters” quickly change landscape bare spots into pseudo golf greens. Many gardeners have experienced trying to pull Spotted Spurge when its leathery stems produce a papercut-like wound that hurts for weeks. Additionally when the stems break, they ooze a sticky sap that is nearly impossible to wash from hands or gloves.Have you noticed folks harvesting tall, weedy plants from the roadsides recently?There is a good chance they are gathering annual Amaranth (from the aggressive Pigweed family). Often referred to as the “new kale,” this edible weed produces both nutritious leaves and a gluten-free ancient grain similar to rice. Studies have found it to be a good source of protein, vitamin E, magnesium, dietary fiber, and iron.Similar in texture and appearance to spinach, Amaranth can be eaten raw in salads, as a thickener added to soups, stews, or gravy, or fermented for storing. Cooking has been found to improve its digestibility and absorption of the many nutrients. These fast-growing plants can exceed 6 feet tall, and currently are spilling over roadsides throughout the Santa Cruz Valley.Another edible weed is Purslane, a fleshy groundcover with branches radiating from the center root in all directions at least 12 inches or more. With seeds that may lie dormant in the soil for years, persistent Purslane then forms a dense vegetative mat in open or cultivated areas. Leaves with a slightly sour or salty flavor, much like spinach or watercress, can be eaten either raw or cooked.Puncturevine is another annual mat with trailing branches along the ground each up to 5 feet long. Its small yellow flowers later turn into pods with sharp, tack-like points capable of damaging animals and vehicles. Bicycle tires are frequently punctured by these burs. Seeds may remain dormant in the soil for up to 5 years, making eradication difficult.Pulling or digging are among the simplest methods of getting rid of unwanted weeds. The Hula Hoe is an ergonomic tool with a long handle to lessen the gardener’s back-bending stress.Organic gardeners kill early weeds with a spray of undiluted cider vinegar. Others use boiling water, bleach, or a salt solution poured onto leaves. A homemade spray of 4 cups vinegar, 1 cup salt, and ½ teaspoon liquid soap can also be used.These products may also harm desirable plants and may raise the soil pH. Always use the smallest amount possible; careful to not over-spray; and be aware of any wind drift.Mary Kidnocker is a University of Arizona Master Gardener who lives in the Green Valley area. Her articles are featured weekly.
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As you well know !