GARDEN THERAPY: In the Weeds – August 2015

Thumbnail Mel Bellar (1)By Mel Bellar

I ran into one of the esteemed editors of this publication at the post office yesterday, which happened to be the official deadline for my August column (uh-oh), and after a gentle nudge she enthusiastically suggested that I write about the abundant and tenacious weeds in her garden. Of course, she wasn’t serious (or maybe she was), but regardless, it started me thinking about the passion that weeds can inspire. They can certainly provide a lot of therapeutic opportunities. You can work out your frustrations by pulling them, whacking them, torching them or poisoning them. Or you can work on your chill and accept them, love them or negotiate your feelings and coexist with them. Oh, and then there are those who eat them. On numerous occasions when I have quipped about how much I hate a particular weed, someone will say, “Oh, the greens are good in a salad” or, “You can make a tea and it cures (fill in the blank.)” All I can think to say is, “Please come eat my weeds!”Picture1

I personally love to PULL the weeds; it gives me such pleasure to feel their roots, their life line given to my expert touch and tug. I am not one of those who can trick myself into seeing the weeds (in my garden at least) as anything other than an eyesore, dust bunnies in the garden, schmutz on the counter. There are many sayings about weeds, nearly all with a derogatory slant, but there are a few that try to depict the weed as a misunderstood flower. One of the most common is: a weed is just a plant in the wrong place or in a place that you don’t want it (or something like that). Rubbish I say! A weed is a weed is a weed and it rarely has a place in my garden. I will agree that what is a weed, and what is not, is completely subjective. However, after you have decided it is a weed, it doesn’t really belong in the garden.

Weeding is clearly a misunderstood skill by most. Most people hate it and see it as a loathsome chore to be avoided at all costs, but there are the few of us that find it sincerely gratifying and almost a form of meditation. I can “get into the flow” and weed for hours and leave the scene with a sense of great satisfaction. There is something hypnotic about the repetitive act and the nice results that clears the mind and makes it hard to stop. Weeding is definitely a skill and actually requires quite a bit of knowledge to be good at it. Firstly, you have to know the difference between the plants and weeds which can be difficult, especially when you are dealing with young seedlings, and secondly, you kind of need to know each weed and the best way to go about removing it. These are things that can only be acquired through experience and gaining familiarity. I have never seen a book that teaches how to weed but there must be one. (Hmmm, do I see an opening?).

Here are a few helpful things to know about weeds and weeding:

  • The longer you let it go the more difficult it will be. If you let the weeds become more than half of the plants in a bed and let the roots of the weeds get all entangled with the roots of your plants, it may be better to dig everything up and start over.
  • It is much easier to weed when the soil is moist, especially if the soil has a lot of clay in it or is very compacted.
  • If you don’t know the weed, grab the weed as close as you can to the base and try to pull it. If you sense it is going to break you will probably need a tool to help.
  • With a weed that has a tap root or rhizomes (sideways roots running under the ground) you can use a trowel, garden fork or the famous “hackey hoe.” Plunge your tool of choice into the ground a couple of inches away from the base of the weed (not too close or you will cut the root) and wedge it back and forth and push or pull it up while pulling the weed from the base. The rocking and disturbing of the soil around the root often loosens it enough to pull it out without the root breaking. If the root is a runner, you might have to follow along the root as it pulls continuing to loosen the soil around it, to continue the extraction.
  • Many weeds have weak roots or roots that are too weak to be able to pull. It is often very effective just to cut off the root and disadvantage the weed by removing its source of sun for photosynthesis. This is especially true if the “good” plants around might shade it out as it tries to grow again.

OK. Having said all that, if you are a person who has learned to embrace the weeds, more power to you! If not, go out there and give your garden some love and try to get into the Zen of weeding.~


Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener.