weeds


Because there never is an end to it in the garden, I have more thoughts on weeding.  I discovered a great organic technique for effectively dealing with the weeds that grow between the bluestone pavers in my front path.  Cider vinegar. Basically, I took cider vinegar and put it in little squeezer bottles, like the kind you see for ketchup and mustard, only clear.  I then squeezed it liberally between the pavers, using almost a gallon over all.  The photos here are before and after, the after being the next day.  I did it on a day when I knew it was going to be sunny, so the acid in the vinegar could really fry the weeds.  Although I don’t have a shot of it, it’s been a month since I did this, and there are no weeds.  The first year I tried this it worked just as well, but last year I kept putting it off, and then it rained for the month of June.  The weeds pretty much devoured the path, and because their roots were wedged between the pavers, they were incredibly difficult to pull out.  This made me extra motivated to do it in a timely fashion this year, although the weeds were still bigger than I wanted, it still worked.  The weather stayed nice for several days after I treated the path, and I have to tell you, it smelled quite vinegary until we had some decent rain.  I wouldn’t use this technique in my garden beds, because the vinegar could damage plants near the weeds, but it works great on pavement.

Advertisements

After I wrote my last post about weeding, I realized that I created a somewhat menacing outlook.  That steamy morning of weeding must have really affected me, because I usually have a very laid back and relaxed attitude about weeds.  I had to laugh when I reread about liking to weed when they are at least an inch high.  Yeah, right.  Maybe in the veggie garden, where I am definitely more on top of weeding, but in my perennial and shrub beds?  Let’s just say the weeds achieve a somewhat more mature size, say 6” to a foot, before I feel really compelled to get to them.  I find it kind of satisfying to let a bed get out of hand before I tackle it.  It’s like the feeling you get from cleaning a really dirty bathroom.  It just looks so much better after the clean-up, it almost highlights the beauty of your garden more if you let it get overgrown and messy and then attack it.

I guess you could say that weeding has been on my mind lately.  The flurry of May planting is over, the summer veggies are in but have not started producing yet, most of the annual flowers are also in.  I have a few leftover plants that I need to find spots for, but of course, any open areas in my garden are covered in weeds right now.  So before I can plant anything, I have to clear the soil.  It’s a good practice to try to fill all available space with plants you want, as a way of controlling the weed problem.  My established perennial beds get very few weeds, because the perennials cover all the bare soil.  The weeds really do just colonize bare soil, which is why everyone tells you to mulch if you want a carefree, neat garden.  I’ll mulch some areas, but mulch does interfere with the self-sowers, and it’s a lot of work to lay down the mulch.  I mostly do the beds in front of my house, and hard to reach areas.

A friend of mine does these amazingly detailed and beautiful pen and ink drawings, which she calls “knitting”.  Weeding is like knitting for me.  I’ve been doing it long enough that it doesn’t require a lot of my attention, so I can just sit and gather wool, and listen to the birds.  Recently my husband observed me “weeding”, sitting on my little stool gazing about, and suggested I read his meditation book.  I suppose that is what I am doing, but it is an outward directed meditation and not an inward directed one.  In those moments, the most pure in my gardening, I am just being in the garden.  Weeding is a great way for you to literally get, or be, in touch with your plants.  And, after all, isn’t that why you garden?  To have beautiful plants and flowers to look at whenever you want? To create a beautiful and comfortable place to spend time outdoors, in the nature?  Weeds never become a total disaster if you spend a lot of time in your garden, because you will catch anything before it gets truly out of hand.  And the definition of “out of hand” is your own.  No matter how messy it gets, it is still glorious to be outdoors.

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.