As gardeners, we all know that weeding is an essential ingredient to maintaining a well-groomed garden. Groan all you want but if you’re going to have a garden you are going to have to weed. Several books published in the late 1990s advocated letting the weeds remain, that a garden with weeds was still a garden. Perhaps — but a garden full of pokeweed and tulip poplars is not my idea of a garden.
To keep weeding from becoming a daunting gardening occupation, here are several suggestions that might make this task easier. Remember, no one actually relishes spending gardening time weeding; rather the gardener’s job is to make it less tiresome than usual.
The first thing you need to do is to recognize your weeds — and this is harder than it sounds. Many of us have lovingly planted a youthful sprig, only to pull it up, thinking it was an unrecognized weed. The best definition I have found for a weed is this: a weed is a plant in an undesirable place. So hellebore seedlings can quickly become weeds even though you paid money for the mother hellebore. Seedy plants typically produce weeds after a while.
Every garden has its own particular weeds. For example, my neighbor’s tulip poplar tree wants desperately to reside in my garden — I must pull out over 500 seedlings every growing season. Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, appears now sporadically because over the years I have managed to pull it out before it goes to seed. A poisonous weed, pokeweed has no redeeming features and does not belong in our gardens.
Some weeds are worse than other weeds. Nutsedge is among the worse because you can never get rid of it entirely. Here the idea is to contain it so it won’t overtake your garden. It will grow anywhere, even in grass so train you eye to notice it so you can pull it out quickly.
Once you have identified your weeds, plot a strategy. My suggestion is to pull out the weeds before resorting to chemical solutions. Even glyphosate, aka Roundup, has questionable health effects so I have to be on the losing side of the weed wars before I even contemplate using it.
If you have a large weedy patch, don’t kill yourself by weeding it all at once — this is a surefire way of developing weed burnout from thereon in. Instead place a comfortable limit on how much time you’re willing to spend on weeding a particular area: The weeds will still be there tomorrow for you to resume this pastime. This way you can appreciate your daily progress without exhausting yourself over this task.
Do not compost your weeds. Perhaps your compost gets to the required heat level where all the weed seeds are killed but why risk it? Do you really want to go to the trouble of weeding, only to have them return with a vengeance in your homemade compost?
Mulch is your solution in providing for a relatively weed-free environment. Always mulch your perennial and annual plantings after you have weeded. I like the pine bark mini-nuggets because they break down, thereby adding organic matter to the soil.
Last, if you cannot stand the idea of weeding, at least do this: Do not let the weeds flower. This way you will cut down on the annual weed production for the next year. As for perennial weeds, my advice is to “pull, baby, PULL.”
Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.