Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tips for Easier Weeding

A friend of mine pointed out yesterday that the downside of living in a place that anything can grow is that anything and everything does grow.

Even (and especially) weeds.

I weed my gardens by hand, without the use of chemicals. It's not as difficult as it may sound. I follow a few basic guidelines to make the job run smoothly. And somehow, I manage to have my flowers and vegetables remain the centerpieces of my garden -- not the weeds.

I have family members and neighbors who have questioned why I bother. I have two main reasons. First, weeds are resource thieves. They eat up the moisture and nutrients in the garden that other plants will absolutely need to grow their best. If allowed to grow, their root systems will entangle other plants' roots. Their leaves can eat up the sunlight and shadow other plants.

My second reason for weeding is aesthetic. I want my gardens to look tidy. For that reason, I will even keep sprawling perennials in check by treating them as weeds when they spread. My mother and mother in law are always aghast when they see me with a handful of rudbeckia or moneywort that I've pulled out of the garden. When I can, I make room for useful plants in another area of the yard. But when it comes to keeping order, I confess to being a bit ruthless.

Experience has taught me (as have plentiful garden mistakes) what makes for effective weeding. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you put order to your plot.

Educate yourself. - Know what kinds of plants you are dealing with before you start pulling willy-nilly. A great resource is Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. I also use the online weed index from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Check with your own state university or university extension to see what resources exist for your own area. If you know what you're dealing with, it can be easier to avoid potential mistakes.

Be selective. - Spend time evaluating whether or not a weed will do damage. Sometimes, native plants can be attractive additions to your garden. In our first home, my husband and I spent hours digging sweet violets out of the yard. We wanted them to have their own area and for the lawn to be just grass. My first garden sage, a neighbor named Janet, asked us what on earth we were doing. "I love having the violets in the grass. They're green, too -- what does it matter if they're not grass? Besides, if you wait until Spring, they'll turn the whole yard lavender. It's beautiful." We listened to her wise advice and have never looked back. Now, our springtime "lawn" is a carpet of purple. We love it.

When in doubt, wait. - If you're not sure what something is, just let it grow a bit. You have until the plant sets seed to pull it. Sometimes, you can discover some real beauties by just letting an interesting-looking plant grow.

Wear gloves. - I am usually an ungloved gardener. I like the feel of soil in my hands. But when I am weeding, particularly if there might be weeds I don't recognize at first, I do wear gloves. All it takes is your first case of poison ivy or your first spider bite to teach that lesson.

Wet the ground. - I spend time weeding immediately after it rains. The moisture softens up the ground and makes many weeds easier to pull, roots and all. If it hasn't rained in a while, I will choose an area to weed and shower it with the hose for a few minutes -- not enough to make mud pies, but just enough to loosen the soil.

Use tools. - My mother used to pull dandelions with a long tool that looked like a giant screwdriver. I opt for a narrow hand trowel. I carry it with me, plunge it into the dirt next to a stubborn weed and pry upward slightly. With the soil loosened, taproots are easy to pull. Once the weed is out, I heel the soil back down smooth. For soil that is already light and loose, try using a hoe. Turn the corner down and scrape, digging the earth a you go. Pick weeds from the surface of the area you've worked, and use the hoe again to level and smooth the soil.

Be persistent. -- The more consistently you weed, the more you will stay ahead of what your garden needs. I take about 10 minutes each day, usually while the children are playing outside, to attack a section of the garden. By the end of the week, I've cleared quite a bit. And by the time I get the last bed weeded, I can start back at the first again.

Honestly, weeding no gardener's favorite chore. But, hopefully, if you keep ahead of things, your work will yield good results.

- Midwest Mom


  1. I'm not of the garden glove wearing variety either, it's nice to know I'm not the only one sporting a little dirt under the nails now and again... however I may need to wear a face net soon though as I am currently sporting a spider bite behind my ear..

  2. Ouch!

    I got horrible poison ivy last year, even though I *always* wash my hands when I come in from working in the garden.

    My husband, who as luck would have it never gets poison ivy, found the culprit and removed it.

    What a relief! But now, when weeding, I definitely wear the gloves.

    Maybe you could just tape a glove to your ears? That would be stunning, don't you think? :D

    - Julia

  3. I do organic gardening also. I will not use chemicals unless there is no other choice (even in my flowerbeds), and I have only run into a situation like that one time. I was thinking about doing a blog post this week on my 'natural' remedies for keeping bugs and bunnies and weeds away. I don't wear gloves unless I am dealing with thistles or other sharp things. I get weird looks from the manicurist if I go in to get my nails or toenails done. Ughh...the spider bite thing gives me chills. I have never gotten one of those (knock on wood).

  4. amen to the damp soil!
    I am selective in weeding too--you can't get them all no matter HOW hard you try!

  5. We went away for a 2 week visit with family and returned to beds full of weeds. That's what not being consistent will do for you. Of course it doesn't help that we have crawly horrible grass everywhere.

    Thanks for the tips. Now I'm off to try to reclaim a little of my flower bed.


  6. Very very thankful for your tips. They are very true.


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