Warning. This post contains graphic plant violence, i.e. I am going to show you a bunch of pictures of perennial hairy vetch dominating a bunch of weeds in my garden, which in my eyes is quite an accomplishment for a plant that is rooted in the garden. Really, it may not seem like much to us human folk, but when put into context, it is actually quite impressive. For you see, we know that plants are living things, but we assign them no intelligence. We define them as autotrophs and flora, but we do not believe that they do not possess a means of higher thinking.
However, these amazing plants have developed in a manner that enables them to create their own source of nutrition (N), maintain and expand their territory, attract pollinators and accumulate valuable minerals. Plus, it looks amazing while doing it. This is an amazing feat of nature. And in this particular case, there are some plant wars in progress and I have a first row seat to an epic battle.
Perennial hairy vetch is a member of the Fabaceae (legume) family. This specific variety of the vivacia species has a taproot that can be up to 40”/101 cm in length. The vines can also grow to be 6 ft/1.8 m tall and 12 ft/3.7 m wide. Its lovely purple flowers attract beneficials, such as lacewings, predatory beetles and spiders. It is a dynamic accumulator and as a member of the Fabaceae family, it enriches the soil with Nitrogen as it grows.
Vetch is quite popular for enriching soils of poor quality. The use of vetch is also associated with improved soil aggregation and decreases in soil erosion. It can be used both in agricultural contexts or in the home garden. However, if allowed to go to seed, the plant can become quite invasive which can be good or bad – depending on the growing space. Farmers most commonly plant this type of crop in late summer/early fall to allow for root establishment before the first frost of the year. The plants are then allowed to grow through the winter being plowed into the ground (as fertilizer) in the spring in preparation for the coming growing season. Furthermore, few weeds can survive the onslaught from a well-established hairy vetch vine, which means fewer (or no) chemicals in the garden and less time weeding. Double win!
So, if you are looking pretty to take on your weeds in a battle to the death, consider using perennial hairy vetch. It is an amazingly interesting slow-mo battle experience.