August 25, 2010
As a gardener my style is not to get too bent out of shape with respect to weeds. Some weeds act as companion plants in a garden while others are edible. I only get concerned if the weeds present the potential to choke out the fruits or vegetables. My preferred way of dealing with weeds is pulling.
Earlier this year I noticed a suspected weed that I had not seen before. The plants were mainly in the two new raised beds so chances I thought the seeds might have been in the soil used to fill the beds. They were appearing in numbers quite suggestive of a weed so at first I was pulling them before the plant got a about 9 - inches tall. Then it dawned on me that I should identify the plant to be sure it was a weed and not a wildflower that I may want to transfer to another area of the garden. I decided to let one grow a bit for identification.
The plant is Velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti) is a member of the mallow family. It is classified by Ontario Weeds as a weed that is mainly a problem in corn, soybean, and other tilled crop fields. This weed can reach a height of 1 to 2 metres. The broad heart shaped leaves result in overshadowing other plants. The leaves on the one pictured in one of the pepper beds measures 8 - inches at the broadest point. In corn fields a density of velvetleaf of 1 plant/m2 the loss is 4% while in soybean fields the same density will result in a 6% loss1. Clearly with respect to the cash crop sector this is a problem weed. The good news is that velvetleaf is not toxic and not known to be allergenic so pulling this weed will not be an issue. Velvetleaf also attracts beneficial pollinators. It is acting somewhat as a companion plant with the peppers though if you notice the damaged leaves. Whatever insect is doing the damage is going for the velvetleaf and leaving my peppers alone so the peppers are nice and healthy looking. The seeds of velvetleaf are edible and at one time fibers from the plant were used in China.
I would like to let one grow big enough to harvest the seeds to use as a companion plant next year. With proper management by pulling before the plant has a chance to flower I can reap the benefits of the pest control without reducing yield. This plant is just now started to flower. My main concern is the plant is just too big to keep where it is. What I'm going to try is potting up one of the smaller velvetleaf or may even transplant a couple to harvest the seeds. While the plant is not classified as a noxious weed in Ontario it is in British Columbian and several US states so I will be using careful management with this weed. As soon as the seed pods appear I will be bagging one or two and remove the rest so the seeds don't get out into the wild where they can be a problem.