Near the end of March there is one very important garden task to be completed: Weeding. If you don’t get control of the weeds this week, you’ll have millions more to deal with later on in the summer. April is the month of blooming, seeding and spreading weeds, so pulling, mulching and cutting back weeds this month is the best form of preventative maintenance.
Winning the war on weeds can be fought with the help of outside intelligence. This means you need to get smart when attacking the outside gardening chores and learn to enjoy hand weeding as a substitute for yoga (bend and stretch slowly, breathe deeply), an attempt to become more mindful and meditate (concentrate on the sounds, sights and fragrance of getting close to the earth) and as an escape from technology (perhaps the most important tip for weeding efficiency is to leave the cellphone indoors).
Here are some more tips for weeding wisdom:
▪ Don’t bend; get on your knees.
▪ Hand-pulling the easy-to-pluck weeds, such as shot weed and young seedlings, that are emerging between your perennials and shrubs is best done on all fours — much less stress on the back and neck. This means you do need to invest in pants with padded knees or a cushioned kneeling pad.
▪ Smother patches of weeds with newspaper or cardboard. If open spaces of the landscape are choked thick with low-growing weeds, you can often smother the life from the colony simply by blocking all sunlight. A soggy clump of grass clippings or compost or a layer of three to five sheets of newspaper with a bark mulch on top will send those weeds back into the soil as dead plants that become compost.
▪ Cut persistent, deep-rooted weeds back to ground level three to four times to starve out the roots. Horsetail, blackberries, bamboo and groundcover gone wild can be well established that they break through mulch and regrow after being cut back. Be more persistent and make this the summer you cut and cut again, forcing the underground root system to finally collapse in exhaustion as new growth is chopped to the ground each time it emerges.
▪ Call the native weeds and patches of clover and English daisy in the lawn your “wild flower garden.” Enlist the blooming plant volunteers in your garden to provide necessary nectar for our pollinators.
▪ Foxgloves, huckleberry, salal and Oregon grape are all native plants that homeowners try to remove just because they were not planted. Thistles provide food for the Monarch butterflies, and clover is a source of a bumble bee’s breakfast.
▪ Don’t be too judgmental about situations that require the use of herbicides.
If using a bit of weed killing spray keeps an elderly gardener from throwing in the trowel and moving from home, or if imported invasive plants swallow up the natives and create barren areas where wildlife cannot thrive, chemical warfare may be warranted. Sometimes a busy homeowner will want to control weeds in an infested area that can then be turned into a more diverse planting bed to the benefit of birds and bees. Accept that using an herbicide such as Roundup may be the practical way to get to the root of a weedy problem and open up new space for more plants. Some so-called “organic” methods to kill weeds such as sprinkling salt or spraying with vinegar can do more damage to the soil than any herbicide sprays sold for homeowner use. Just say no to salt and vinegar.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her through her website, binettigarden.com.