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A one-woman war against mugwort

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Weeds have their place and can even be put to good use. But mugwort? The sight of it sends this gardener into battle mode.


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I saw a funny meme on Facebook the other day. It read, “What a lovely winter we’re having this spring.” While it’s true that I certainly am not feeling the warmth that I usually associate with April, spring is really here and gardening has begun.



In our home garden, the walking onions are already a foot tall. The chives, though spindly, are thickening up every day. I’m afraid our free range chickens roamed a little too long into the season this year and I may not see the return of the rhubarb. But we covered the garlic for the winter so it’s looking good, though perhaps a little frost-bitten around the edges.


At River and Roots, sorrel is in full bloom. We walked down on Easter Sunday and the kids ate a few leaves and tucked a few more in their pockets for the way home. As I picked up garbage that has a way of catching itself in the garden fence, I noticed more green peeking out from the warming soil and shuddered a little. It was mugwort, a persistent weed, and my arch nemesis.


I believe that weeding is hell on earth. I’ve never been a fan of the summer, and now that our yard is intensively planted, I sometimes just downright hate the whole season. 


I’ve spent several years coping with weeds in different ways. When we purchased our home over a decade ago, the previous owners were lawn people. On closing day, we were told which stage in the Scott’s Lawn Care Program he had reached and what the next steps would be. I smiled and nodded, having no idea what he was talking about. I mow grass. The sprinklers water the grass. And that’s the extent of my involvement with the whole operation. 


In the early days, I attempted to keep the lawn looking like they had, without the chemicals of course. This meant hand weeding dandelions. 


All of them. 


Individually. And each year, there seemed to be more.


So one year I decided, if you can’t beat them, eat them. We started harvesting the leaves for salad or sautéing, and I used the flowers in a batch of cookies. Dandelions are now a welcome addition to my landscape.


Other weeds are also exempt from execution at the Nigro micro-farm. Mullein is a medicinal that I love and use almost daily during the winter months. It has increased its territory here and seems to grow all winter long. We cut and dehydrate it for boiling on the wood stove or making into drops, along with garlic and olive oil, when an ear infection rears its ugly head.


2013 0406 mugwortBut mugwort is a nightmare. It is a pervasive weed with a complex and extensive, sprawling root system. If not caught early, the plant can grow three to six feet tall. It is a beast to pull by hand so each time I see the young plant, I attack it with a vengeance. 


There are medicinal uses for mugwort. But as far as I’m concerned, none of them justify its presence in my yard. So I wage a one-woman war against mugwort. I noticed this morning that it’s sprouted in one of our beds where I’ve never seen it before. After I finish my coffee, I’m digging out my garden gloves and heading into battle.


I realize I sound crazy. Perhaps you’re imagining an Elmer Fudd-type scenario. I can’t tell you that you’re too far off. If you see me this gardening season, sweating and mumbling under my breath with filthy hands and dirt under my nails, you may want to head the other way. Oh wait, that’s me every gardening season. Oh well, I guess you’ll have to take your chances.


Just in case it gets ahead of me, I’ve found instructions for making a wreath out of this vile weed. 


Mugwort Wreath:


Select young stalks, at least 2 feet in length. Begin forming the circle of the wreath by intertwining one stalk with another, overlapping the ends by about six inches. You can also use wire, fishing line, or any other binding agent to keep the stalks secured, if they won’t tie onto themselves. Add as many more stalks as you need to create the size you want. Once you’ve created the initial form, you can add more stalks to thicken the wreath. Add dried flowers or other ornamentals. Hang it on your door to welcome spring, or burn it in effigy, as I may.


How do you battle weeds? Or have you thrown in the towel and let them rule? Let me know at laurie@riverheadlocal.com.


Laurie Nigro is a mother of two, wife of a gardener, and co-founder of River and Roots Community Garden. Laurie resides downtown and though she came to gardening by accident, has welcomed it into her life.