Keeping Weeds From Coming Back With Wild Ginger

Keeping Weeds From Coming Back With Wild Ginger

Part of Ep. 1706 Weeds, Wine and Chocolate

Neil Diboll, owner of Prairie Nursery in Pardeeville, shows how to replace weeds with wild ginger.

Premiere date: Aug 26, 2009

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Nature abhors a vacuum.  Once you've gotten rid of the buckthorn, the honeysuckle, and the garlic mustard, if you don't do something, all the bad guys will come back.  I'm back with Neil Diboll, we've got this clean, naked soil, Neil.  Now we've got to do something or we're gonna be in trouble again.

Neil:
Definitely.  This area when we moved here was solid buckthorn and honeysuckle and I cleared it off, treated the stumps, and then what happened?  Zillions of seedlings.

Shelley:
All came back.

Neil:
Honeysuckle, and garlic mustard all came up.  Now what do we do?  Well, I sprayed the area with Round Up for three years until all the weed seeds in the soil were more or less depleted.  And then I had to figure out, what do I plant here?

Shelley:
Now you've got bare soil.

Neil:
I've got bare soil.  That's good, but what am I gonna put in here?

Shelley:
Or you're gonna have...
Neil:
Bad guys.  Right.  So I thought, there's a plant that grows in nature in solid nets, and it's called wild ginger.

Shelley:
Oh, yeah.

Neil:
And I had this rocky soil that wild ginger does great in, this is actually dolomite.

Shelley:
It likes rocks.

Neil:
It will grow right in the rock, it's amazing.  It will also grow in good garden soil, and it will grow in pretty darn sandy soil.

Shelley:
So it's a versatile plant.

Neil:
Very versatile.  Just about anything but wet peat or super-dry sand.

Shelley:
Okay.

Neil:
So I came in here.  In this area, I just planted these last spring.  So these have been in the ground about 13 months.

Shelley:
These are from transplants.

Neil:
These are from transplants, took the little roots out of another bed about six --- roots, little rhizomes.  And a little bud on it, and you can also put it in with pots, you can buy them from  nurseries. They come in pots.  Dig a little hole, put them in here, and these had a couple of leaves on them last year, now they've got about five, six, seven.  And next year in the third growing season, these will fill out and they will almost fill this area in.  By the fourth year, it'll be totally solid bed.

Shelley:
But you did this whole bed by hand.  That's a lot of work.

Neil:
A fair amount of work, took a few hours to do this.

Shelley:
But I'm also still seeing weeds in here, so how is this gonna help us?

Neil:
I'm gonna pull a few of these weeds out, but really, most of these weeds are annual or short-lived.  Chickweed, some annual cabbages in here.  Even dandelions.  This will out-compete them.

Shelley:
The ginger will?

Neil:
It'll smother them out.

Shelley:
I find that hard to believe the way it's sitting here right now.

Neil:
I'll tell you what, I'll show you a place where I did this four years ago.

Shelley:
Okay.

Neil:
Right over here.  And this is what that will look like in another two years.  And you know what?

Shelley:
Oh, wow.

Neil:
All year, I have not pulled one weed out of this, all year.

Shelley:
I can believe this, it looks like a living carpet.

Neil:
It really is.  This is the closest thing I've ever found to a no-maintenance, once it's established.

Shelley:
I don't see a single weed.  I mean, there's no room!  And this is wild ginger, wow, at it's best.

Neil:
The foliage completely obscures the soil and it has this dense root system of rhizomes that just completely encompasses the ground.  And here you can see the seeds.
Shelley:
There's a little flower there.  Just hanging down on the ground.

Neil:
It is, it's the flower turning to seed.  And it has these beautiful little red flowers.  And you can open these up and you can see the little seeds in here, they're just forming.

Shelley:
Oh yeah, the cream little things.

Neil:
Yes.  They're not ripe, they'll be brown when they're probably about mid-June.  And the outer husk will turn almost to paper and that's when you know the seed is ready.

Shelley:
Okay.

Neil:
If the seeds aren't brown, they're not ready, and if you try to plant them, they're immature and they will not grow.  Once they turn brown and hard and this is a papery husk, it's ready to go, you can plant them, and then immediately, that day or the next day, within a couple days, just scatter them on a properly prepared area where you have nothing growing, you've cleared everything off.
The same treatment we do for transplants, you can just take the seed pods, throw them on the surface of the soil, and the seed will sit there over the summer and the next winter, and then come up in the following spring about eight months later.

In fact, this area here was done that way.  You can see we have plants now that are two years old.  This was seeded two springs ago, and the plants that have started there are now producing their own seeds, and there's little bitty seedlings started throughout there, and in two more years, this seeded area will look like this.  It takes about an extra year when you use seeds as opposed to transplants.

Shelley:
So it's not as fast, but it might be more economically, especially if I'm doing a large area.

Neil:
Yes, it's not as fast, but it'll be less time, less money.

Shelley:
Okay, I have two questions then.  Why is it called wild ginger?  Is it edible?

Neil:
It's edible.  The root actually does taste like ginger and you can make wonderful candied ginger.

Shelley:
Cool, okay.

Neil:
And another thing about this plant, and I have not seen any scientific surveys on this, but I'm convinced it's allelopathic, meaning that it exudes chemicals from its roots that will keep out other plants.

Shelley:
That was my second question.  I see nothing else in here alive.  That's fantastic.

Neil:
Once it's established, I have to do nothing here.

Shelley:
This is the most gorgeous way to get rid of weeds I have ever seen.  Thanks, Neil.

Neil:
Thank you, Shelley.

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