This is my diatribe to the bane of all gardeners. The one true headache of the summer. Those little, practically inanimate creatures that laugh at me day in and day out as I struggle to take purchase is what is obviously their realm. Yes I’m talking about weeds.
Weeds are nature’s graffiti. ~ Janice Maeditere.
Isn’t that the truth!?! I’m sorry in advance if you don’t mind weeds or think they’re kinda cute, this post is not for you. And furthermore, what is wrong with you? Weeds suck!! Grrrragh! I could spend all day spewing out four letter words in my back yard over these stupid plants. How dare they encroach upon my well thought plans. Who do they think they are to challenge my authority in my garden!?!? I can hear them snickering at me right now as I write this.
Being weed free is like everything else in life that would be great but nature won’t let it. For example, eating what ever you want and not gaining weight, or being rich without putting forth the effort. For most of us, these things just aren’t reality. Weeds are something you work at and whether you like it or not, they’re here to stay…. with a vengeance.
So what do we do? What is the key to a perfectly manicured garden? Is there a way to avoid the back breaking work that is pulling out these suckers? Is there an easy button for ridding ourselves of loathsome plants? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Hard work, dedication, and resolve to have a successful garden is what keeps us going back again and again to address these bothersome bastards.
Trust me, I’ve tried just about everything; natural remedies, burning, Round Up, Napalm…. just kidding but you get the idea. I remember moving in to this home 3 years ago and going after the dandelions like a beast. I thought, if I can get them all out this summer and the summer after that, maybe I can permanently alter my backyard’s ecosystem. Guess what, it didn’t work. I’m continuously accosted by this species and all of their bretheren. At some point you realize that there is nothing to be done. Changing the weed culture of your back yard is much like trying to literally turn the tide, it’s beyond your control.
Crabgrass can grow on bowling balls in airless rooms, and there is no known way to kill it that does not involve nuclear weapons. ~ Dave Barry.
But do not despair, there are some methods I use that are fairly successful at keeping this drama at least manageable. After all, I have to if I want my garden to be healthy and pretty right? But remember, there is no easy button. Weeding is work and it sucks, the end!
What methods to use where:
Kill em all!
For areas that are gravelly or pavement where you don’t care about killing the ground you can use chemicals. Yes, they are not environmentally friendly and yes you’re probably endorsing controversial companies like Monsanto. But they work. They kill everything within several feet of where you spray, which is scary when you think about it. I often wrestle with purchasing the stuff or not simply out of principle. Still, it is gratifying to watch it all die and for the most part not come back for the rest of the season. Do be aware though, it’s not permanent by any means, they’ll return next warm season, the little f*#kers always do!
This year I haven’t played the Round Up game… yet. Maybe it’s because it’s been so hot and dry, most of the plants in the gravel are drying out and dying on their own. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a very busy summer and I haven’t had time. Maybe it’s because I don’t like using the stuff because of how toxic it is. Maybe I’m just lazy…..yeah that’s probably it.
For your lawn, you pretty much need to use some kind of chemical. If you go in there with a spade and start digging, the end result looks a lot like green swiss cheese. Weed and feed products come in all shapes and sizes and do a great job at what they advertise. They kill the weeds while feeding the grass. Oh hey! There’s and easy button! It’s about the only one I know as far as weeding goes but this is by far as good as “effort free” gets in the game.
However, if you have moss in your grass… you’re pretty much screwed. Again, you have to start with chemicals to kill the moss. Then it’s on to thatching. Have you ever thatched before? It’s back breaking work. Basically you’re raking the dead moss out of the grass. I tried it last year for a few hours each day. I barely got 1/2 of my piddly front yard done. I threw up my hands on the last day and decided to live with the moss. P.S. it’s a lot easier to “live with” these kind of things when you don’t own the home. Mountain man and I have talked about completely replacing the front lawn but it’s not worth it if we’re planning to buy our own house in a year. Besides, it looks grassy on top and the moss is deliciously squishy on bare feet. Honestly I didn’t know it was a problem until MM pointed it out.
Flowers and Vegetables
Now onto the stuff that matters. What to do with weeds around the stuff that you care about. The stuff that you want to grow, harvest, and enjoy. There are lots of methods out there, and believe me, I’ve tried many, but here’s what works best for me:
It is the best medicine and that medicine in gardening is called mulching. Mulching is essentially laying down a layer of stuff over your soil. It deters many weeds from growing and helps the soil retain moisture for longer periods. Win/win right? Examples of mulches include bark, straw, compost, and stones. Better Homes and Gardens made a mulch quiz to help you figure out what kind of mulch is best for your landscape. For me, I use bark. It works and looks great in the flower beds and definitely tames them in the veggie garden.
See how there’s mulch around the onions on the left and bare soil on the right. Funny how the weeds grow right along the edge of the mulch. It’s like they’re trying to break through into the onions!
But make no mistake: the weeds will win; nature bats last. ~ Robert M. Pyle.
And they always do. So you need to know how to remove them properly. The reason weeds are so prolific is because of their root systems. Some weeds have sprawling networks of roots that continuously grown underground. Others, like dandelions, have huge taproots (like carrots). Regardless of the type, if you do not remove the entire root, guaranteed, the plant will come back.
To start, you need to have the right weapons before going into battle: a bucket to put your kill in, a spade and a weed fork (your weapons), gloves to spare your hands from the prickly ones (your shield), water for hydration, a knee pad so you don’t trash your knees from being on them all day, scissors for any deadheading or other such trimming you find along the way, and a frisbee…. a frisbee? Oh that darn dog! Ok, a frisbee to throw for the dog when you need a break.
Ideally, you’ll want to wait until the ground is moist from a good rain. This will help loosen up the roots and make them easier to pull. Your first job is to find the weed’s source. If it’s a sprawling plant, use the forked rake to move the plant around and loosen the soild until you find the stem that leads into the ground. Use the spade to loosen the soil around the stem. Then pull slowly and straight up. If the plant snaps without the roots attached, then you have to dig them out (which is a total pain). If you don’t dig them out, yup, you guessed it, they’re coming back. I personally have no desire to play the “dig up the beds to find the root system game.”
So I choose to admit defeat for the moment and try again once it regrows. Honestly 1 out of every 4 or 5 I pull will break. It’s just how it is.
As for the King Asshat of the weeds, there can only be one, the dandelion. Oh how I hate this villain of the garden. Do you remember being a kid, picking the poof balls, making a wish, and blowing them away? Um, hello! You’re spreading the seeds!! What the hell were we thinking?? I am never teaching my children to do that….EVER!!!
Dandelions are particularly difficult due to their taproots. Taproots are big, easy to break, and don’t like coming out of the ground. The plant in the picture, probably has a tap root at least a foot long. So if you don’t get the entire root out, the plant will come back. I’m convinced it only needs a millimeter of root to go full blown butthead all over again. The one in the picture, he’s a lifer. I could make my entire existence about getting the entire root out, only to have a new one show up right next to it. There’s no point.
The best way to attack dandelions is to get them while they’re pretty small. First, take your spade and shove is straight down next to the plant. Then carefully loosen the soil around the taproot before pulling it out.
If you feel a snap when pulling, chances are you didn’t get the whole root. You’ll see blunt ends like this:
Oh goody! I get to try again in a month or two…. kill me now!
If you are lucky enough to get the whole root, congratulations, you got rid of one dandelion. Break out the champagne!
When it comes to weeds and weeding the best way to approach the situation is to set goals. If you spend an entire day weeding, you’ll burn yourself out and be extremely exasperated to discover they’ve all grown back in a week. What I do is this: Monday through Friday, in the evenings, when it’s cool, I take my tools and weed until I’ve filled up my little red bucket. It takes less than 10 minutes and keeps me on top of the problem. I feel like I’m selling you a work out program: Just 10 minutes of your day and your garden will look and stay amazing! In all honesty, I slip all the time, but I do the best I can. When it comes to weeds, the only way to live with them is to accept that they will always be there and you will always have to deal with them. So we must live humbly among a species that has proven far more successful than our own.
Roses are red, Violets are blue; But they don’t get around, Like the dandelions do.~ Slim Acres.
As for the silver lining? There is one weed that has thrived in a corner of the back of our house that we rarely visit…
I swear it wasn’t even half that big last year! MM was about to go shred it when I screamed “STOP!!”
Look at all those blackberries!! We are going to be up to our eyeballs in berry goodness in a few weeks!! So I guess it ain’t all bad…. I still hate ’em, but if they have berries, I’ll let it slide 🙂
How do you deal with your weeds?