About a month ago, I had a friend over to see my garden.  She wants to garden and I was trying to get her to just go for it.  As I was showing her my main veggie bed, which at that point I had not started planting out and was absolutely covered in weeds, she turned to me and asked, but what do you do about the weeds?  I responded, I sit on my little weeding stool and pull them out.  But what struck me most about her query was the expression on her face.  She seemed so dismayed at the thought of weeding.  At that moment I decided to write a post about weeding, with the intention of telling her, and other gardeners, do not fear the weeds!  I planned to call the post something like, the zen of weeding, or the weeds are not out to get you, or the joy of weeding.  Then, this week, as I approached my burgeoning weed problem on a hot humid sunny day, I changed my mind. Weeding sucks!  The truth is, weeding can be the most satisfying of gardening experiences, and the biggest ordeal.  The time and weather conditions of your chosen time of weeding can have a huge effect on your experience, as well as the growth phase of the weeds.  I had chosen the worst possible weather to confront my weeds, just sitting out there was killing me, forget about the added torture of bending and pulling weeds.  A cooler, cloudy day would have found me enjoying the same activity.  Also, had I not neglected the duty, or had the weeds not turned so quickly from tiny little motes to aggressive green monsters, it would not have been such a chore.

However, in many ways, aside from the bad weather conditions, it was a good time to weed.  It was before the weeds had completely taken over, overwhelming all of my veggie plants, but after they had gotten big enough to easily grasp and pull.  I will pull itty bitty weeds, if there are not too many of them, but I like them to be at least an inch or more in size, to give me more to grasp.  Weeding tiny seedlings feels like combing lice out of a child’s hair.  I have at times used a technique similar to hoeing when I have a big area with teeny weeds, scaping the edge of my trowel.  This technique only works in certain areas of my garden though, because I have been gardening with self-sowers for many years now, and some of the “weeds” are actually the seedlings of annual flowers that I like to have in the garden.  Cleome, Verberna boriensis and hastata, Echinacea, corydalis are my main self-sowers, but there are a number of other “weeds” that I like to keep around.  Last year I planted borage, as a beneficial plant, and this year it came back gangbusters.  I also have some volunteer sunflowers this year.  One challenge of weeding when you have self-sowers is that you have to know what each of these self-sowers look like.  You have to be able to selectively weed, leaving some seedlings but removing most.  You have to thin the self-sowers or else they get too crowded.  They add a delightful aspect to weeding, though, a kind of treasure hunt.

Before I had a garden, I was an amateur naturalist, and spent many hours pouring over wildflower guidebooks.  I bring that attitude to my weeding efforts, too, trying to really identify every “wild” plant that I encounter in my tame garden.  In my early years of gardening, if I wasn’t sure if some plant was a “weed” or something more interesting, I would allow it to grow until it flowered.  I have had some dramatic failures with this system, such as when I let a patch of pokeweed have it’s way.  By the time I realized what I had unleashed in my garden, I had created a problem that took years to defeat.  Pokeweed is a native plant, and birds love it, but it’s bad in the veggie and ornamental garden, because established pokeweed has a deep root that’s hard to remove and the berries are poisonous for people. This is just one example of a weed that needs to be dealt with alacrity.  Tree weeds are important to stay on top of, because once they’ve become established, you will not be able to pull them out. Bindweed, bittersweet and wild wisteria vines must be dealt with aggressively, but the worst in the book is poison ivy.  If you don’t know what poison ivy looks like, school yourself.  If you are attracting birds to your garden, you will get it because they eat the berries and then poop out the seeds.  It won’t become a problem if you stay on top of it, but you must be vigilant.

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