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Name that Weed….Question of the Week

Often we get questions from our clients or people new to the area about plant ID. Here’s a recent one that came across my desk from a homeowner in the mountain foothills west of Boulder:

What is that weedy patch of plants on my septic leach field??   Mullien patch on septic field-Aug2016- Staats

Looks like you have a thick patch of common mullein growing. They can take over if they don’t have any competition from other plants, but they also have some medicinal qualities, so they are not entirely all bad either. The thing to remember with controlling this ‘weed’ is that it is an ONGOING process: one hit of poison or even one year of hand pulling will not be enough.

It has a shallow tap root, so you can easily pull the tall plants after a good rain. Since the flowers & seed are already set now in late summer, best to dispose of these pulled plants in bags and haul away. You could try covering the low-growing mullein (the ones that haven’t sent up tall flower/seed stocks) with plastic, and you might get some die off as we cruise into fall (they have a 2 year life cycle, so it would be worthwhile). You could also weed whack them instead. Then I would suggest you seed this area in the late fall or early spring with a more desirable wild flower, prairie grass, or ground cover, so that they will crowd out the mullein. I would NOT suggest applying more poison for reasons too numerous to discuss!

On my mountain property, I strategically weed whack back some grasses & other undesirables throughout the spring & summer to allow the wild flowers more space. I often leave a few tall mullein here and there for visual interest & to make a cough suppressant tea for the winter, but hand-pull the rest. I don’t worry so much about the low growing ones, as I’m always increasing my seed bank of wild flowers & cool looking grasses to out compete things I don’t want. In the end, I strive for increasing plant diversity and don’t fret about a few weeds that I can knock out with my trusty weed whacker.  Plant recommendations for a leach field area are basically a wild flower/grass mixes since they have a shallow root system and low water needs.  Nature’s toilet paper, aka mullein, is considered a noxious weed when it has little competition, but when you understand its’ life cycle and encourage plant diversity, it doesn’t have to take over!                                                             Written by:  Karina Zedalis (c)2016Mountain garden in BEM - KZ June20016Plant diversity power! Photo: Big Elk Meadow home of KZedalis

Plant diversity power!
Photo: Big Elk Meadow home of KZedalis