First it was blackberry brambles. Now it’s yankee weed. What’s next?
No, wait — I don’t want to know.
Lately I’ve been waging war on yankee weed, aka dog fennel, a rampantly common plant that’s currently at its zenith.
Yankee weed is tall — reaching heights of well over 6 feet — and wispy. Worst of all, it leans.
It’s bad enough when it grows in fields and food plots. The stem is tough, leathery and flexible, and if your mower or bushhog blades aren’t sharp, it will just lean over and pop back up.
But it’s really a pest when it grows along the sides of lanes, where mower blades don’t dare to tread for fear of stumps and logs.
On the Outback where I ramble, yankee weed has virtually taken over long stretches of road, leaning in from both sides.
In short order, a 20-foot wide lane is reduced to 10 feet, while a 10-foot lane is barricaded.
I sharpened my mower blades and cut as close as I dared, but the weeds also grow in the woods where you can’t reach them and reach out into the road.
Next I tried a kaiser blade. That’s fine for small patches, but when it comes to hundreds of yards of the stuff, I’m afraid that ship has sailed for someone who is old enough to sign up for Medicare.
So I decided to spring for a weed-cutter with a blade.
I already owned one, a cheap model that lasted one year before conking out permanently. This time I spent the money on a good one.
Unlike the cheap one, which took many pulls to get going, this one purred to life with one gentle pull.
So my spare days of late have involved walking the lanes and mowing down dog fennel. My weapon resembles a skill-saw blade — a mere touch topples the plant.
I wear snake boots not only in case I roust out a snake, which is entirely possible, but in case of kickback. A blade that can sever a two-inch tree trunk like a stick of butter would be bad business for an unprotected shin.
I already wear glasses, so I haven’t tried safety glasses, though I probably need to as now and then a bit of bark comes flying my way.
A weed-cutter is way easier than a kaiser blade, but still takes a toll on an arthritic neck. After one tank of gas or one dip of tobacco, whichever comes first, it’s time for a break.
Friends have given me varied advice on how to deal with yankee weed. One said I need to dig it up — not exactly feasible when you have seemingly miles of the stuff.
Another said to spray it with herbicide in June. That’s nice to know, but this is October. Plus, I’m not a big fan of herbicide except when there’s no other choice.
So I opted for small equipment.
I was recently discussing such problems with my old pal Dan Banks, who owns a plot of rural land in Hawaii. Like me, he prefers small, hand-operated tools to big, expensive equipment.
“I’m a small-tool guy,” is how he puts it.
I’m not sure how many of us fall into that category, but I’m definitely among them.
For one thing, I hate to spend money (which can backfire, as in the case of the cheap weed-cutter).
For another, I dislike fooling with machinery. Just changing the oil in a lawn mower is a big accomplishment for me.
For years I didn’t even use much small machinery. Instead I opted for machetes, bush axes, swing blades and the like. I’ve cleared dense stands of property with such.
Those days are pretty much over. Now I go for power tools, of which there is fortunately an incredible variety.
I especially like the new battery-powered items: pole saw, small chainsaw, hedge trimmer and more. They’re lightweight, powerful and inexpensive.
But no matter what you use — machete, weed-cutter, lawn mower or bushhog — the weeds will eventually win out or at least bounce back.
Just walking the Outback, I see cedar weed (a smaller version of yankee weed), tallow tree shoots, sweet gum, Japanese climbing fern, privet hedge, blackberry brambles, persimmon, American beautyberry, tie vine, morning glory and countless others.
Blackberry canes are as bad as yankee weed, leaning into the road, blocking your path. They’re worse in that they have thorns, better in that they produce berries. Either way, they have to be cut.
American beautyberries are wonderful to behold with their clusters of lavender berries, but they too grow like weeds.
This summer my brother Robert and his wife Julia of San Marcos, Texas, came to visit and told us they’d been thinking about buying beautyberry shrubs to plant around their house. Angelyn and I got a laugh out of that and showed them endless stands of the plants growing wild throughout the Outback. We dug some up for them to take home.
There’s a fine line between weeds and wildflowers. Right now the wildflowers are fabulous, bedecking the roadsides in stunning colors.
But they too can be noxious, not least in producing allergens, which really work on me. Still, I let them be whenever possible.
With the blackberries and yankee weed out of the way, I know something else is poised and ready to take their place.
I don’t know what, but I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.