WILD in the Garden State just had a string of festival screenings. The inspiring story of gardening for wildlife is building an audience! The Q&A’s following the screenings were lively conversations where Dave and I shared our knowledge about filmmaking, design and gardening. Dave has been proudly calling me a “Doc Star.” We were even asked to give a WILD garden tour for the new Monmouth chapter of the Native Plant Society!
But now it’s late spring, and a stealth weed with mock in its name is mocking me. It seems like every day all I do is garden and lately, all I do is weed.
I knew it was in the garden. While I was captioning WILD in the Garden State, I looked up plant names to make sure my narration was accurate:
- Clover, violets and wild strawberry are considered weeds. But I let them be. I like the way they look, plus they fix nitrogen, improve soil health and feed insects.
I did a google search so I could include their common and scientific names on-screen:
- Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)
- White Clover (Trifolium repens)
- Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
Oops. Turns out that what I thought was “wild strawberry” is an imposter. The Google search told me that wild strawberry has white flowers and small, delicious berries. The alleged strawberry in my garden has yellow flowers and tasteless berries. As its Latin name, Potentilla indica suggests (indica meaning: from India) this plant is originally from Asia. It’s just pretending to be strawberry and so the common name: mock strawberry.
I quickly updated the narration:
- Clover and violets wild strawberry are considered weeds. But I let them be.
I made this discovery late last summer while I was busy finalizing WILD in the Garden State. By then it was too hot and miserable to do much weeding. Besides, mock strawberry looks nice with deep green leaves, and pretty berries. It was brought to North America as an ornamental.
Flash forward to our first ever WILD garden tour this spring. A young girl excitedly announced “I found a strawberry!” I replied: “it’s not really a strawberry and…” She added: “It doesn’t taste good.” (It’s safe to eat; just tasteless.) The garden tour continued, and now — because it’s ripe, red berries were stood out against all the lush spring growth — I could suddenly see bright red mock strawberries EVERYWHERE…. mocking me.
Until the garden tour, I had continued to ignore it. I thought I’ll get to it later. I had important DESIGN work to do.
Potentilla indica has an insidious way of replicating. Runners extend out from a mother plant until they reach a new patch of soil. As soon as they hit “pay dirt” they send down roots. The plant forms a network of sister plants. In the lawn this network lays low. But once it has reached across the lawn into a garden bed, mock strawberry suddenly rears up like a monster. No longer mowed down, the weed uses the garden plants as a trellis to reach sunlight, while a network of runners reaches for soil.
Any place that was a bit shady and damp the mock strawberry was rearing up and strangling the Black-eyed Susans, Little Bluestems, and Cardinal flowers. Even the prolific Golden Alexanders were struggling in the battle.
It was a slow, full-scale invasion that I let happen while I fancied myself a garden designer.
In a bit of a panic, I began to weed. And weed. I spent hours every day weeding. I’d return to a patch I thought I’d done and find the classic Potentilla indica three-leaves (trifoliate) connected to a runner.
I googled “how to weed mock strawberry” and found this article helpful: https://durhammastergardeners.com/2019/06/26/i-must-stop-the-mock-strawberry-duchesnea-indica/ The author, Wendy Diaz, had the same experience I had of mistaking it at first for Wild Strawberry. Wendy explained it’s best to weed mock strawberry after a rain.
With the ground a bit wet I found I could tug a runner and slowly pull and pull, sometimes pulling a whole network of leaves and roots up at the same time. Because the runners go deep, I’m often weeding blind. I see the red berries, look for the leaves, then feel for a runner below and grasp down as close to the soil as possible until I feel root-y stuff. Then I begin to slowly, and firmly tug. Sometimes only a runner comes up and I think, sh*t!, I’ll have to do this again because I’ve obviously left roots behind. The berries tend to fall off when touched….leaving the potential for more mock strawberries to germinate next year. And I’ll be back to life as a full-time weeder.
It helped to share my problem with other native plant people. Kim told me I’m not alone: Every year there seems to be some weed that takes you by surprise. Dave told me to not get so down on myself. Far from a personal failing, Mock strawberry is in lawns all across North America.
THE DUNE BED SOLUTION
Mock Strawberry had so infested the “Dune Bed” (filled with Beach Plum, Goldenrod and grasses that grow in the sandy beach dunes) that I decided to use a stirrup hoe and take out all the ground cover (including native violets) growing in between the plants. I still had to hand pull the mock strawberry that reached through the grasses.
Afterwards, I mulched around the plants. It was still hard work, but a lot easier than going in on hands and knees to tease out each and every strawberry imposter. Plus, the “Dune Bed” now has a dramatic look with the plants visually standing apart from each other. What do you think?
July’s heat is here. I’ve stopped hand-pulling mock strawberry. I did enough panic weeding while it was still cool to feel I have a handle on this slow-moving imposter.
The panic has subsided and turned into a strategic plan to keep all our garden beds separate from the remains of our weedy lawn. Stay tuned!