University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial Publications : Book of the Month

Weeds, Friend or Foe
Sally Roth. 2002.  Reader's Digest.  hardcover, 176pp.

Columnist, contributing editor to magazines, and author, Sally Roth covers all aspects of weeds in this book, both the good and the bad, controlling and using them.  The first section has chapters on what weeds are and where they come from.  Next is the largest part of the book-- a directory of over 70 weeds.  For each weed is given a description, photo, advantages or uses ("friend") and disadvantages or controls ("foe").  The third section covers "friend" topics in more detail-- how to use and landscape with weeds, keeping them in control and aesthetic.  Finally the last section covers the "foe" topics in depth-- the controls.  If you garden, you more than likely have to deal with weeds at some point.  This book will help you have more insight into why the weeds are there, how they might even be useful, and how to control them successfully and sustainably.

Most of us think we know what a weed is, but do we?  As the author opens, she states that "weediness is in the eye of the beholder.  The word weed is an epithet of purely human invention; in the botanical world, it simply doesn't exist."  She goes on to point out that even plants with no seeming redeeming value such as burdock, may be of use to others such as herbalists.  So for the definition she states, "the simple answer is that a weed is a plant out of plant.  When a plant interferes with the tidiness of our flower gardens, the sweep of our lawn, the size of the harvest, or even our personal well-being, it's a weed."

We know why most weeds are bad, and so the directory gives useful controls specific for each weed.  But also it is fascinating to read how some weeds, with no apparent value, are useful.  Poison ivy with it's tangled stems and lush leaves provides shelter for small mammals, and the fruit food for many listed birds.  Arranged by scientific name, the directory is most useful not to identify weeds but to read about them if you already know them.  With a good index, even if you know the common name, you can then easily find the weed in question.  Each weed also has a fact file on the basics such as height, site, life cycle, and dispersal.

Under the "using weeds" section are chapters dealing with gardening with weeds (practical uses), weed gardening techniques (how to plant, and keep in control), weed garden design (types of gardens to create, and how to keep them aesthetic and so your neighbors happy), weeds for healing, weeds for eating, and making crafts with weeds. Most chapters have useful tables of weeds for each purpose.

Under the section on weed control are chapters on weed prevention techniques, including much on various types of mulches, and proper weeding techniques.  A chapter on herbicides covers the jargon you might see, safe practices and some herbicides.  Then there are chapters on controlling weeds in specific and unique areas such as lawns, gravel walks, and water gardens.

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