Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Garden of Weeding!

Weeding is one of my least favourite activities and in terms of fun I would have to rate it somewhere between getting a root canal and beating my head repeatedly against a wall. That said, there is a certain amount of satisfaction derived from yanking on a stubborn dandelion and having the entire root slip easily from the soil. (You know what I'm talking about!)

After a rain I can often be found gleefully ripping weeds from the still damp soil of the veggie or perennial gardens. The ease with which the long taproots slip from the moist soil is a heady delight. When I’ve managed to pluck a particularly large weed in its entirety, I exuberantly wave it in the air to show my husband what a prize I’ve captured. He nods patiently knowing that I’m well on my way to complete insanity.

Weeding is a necessary evil in order to promote healthy plant growth and keep a garden looking its best. We all have certain weeds that we struggle with continuously year after year and my nemeses include Queen Anne’s lace and clover, although wild mustard is steadily climbing up the list.

Since the definition of a weed is ‘any unwanted plant’, I can easily categorize my very unwanted patch of curly mint as a weed. I did know better than to plant it betwixt the perennials, so I have no idea what I was thinking the day I nestled the harmless springs of mint beneath the vigorous leaves of my beloved delphiniums.

Although this particular garden was a contained raised bed, heavily lined with three layers of landscape fabric, two short years later the mint had spread not only across, but far beyond the containment of the garden assaulting the lawn, the gravel path meandering between the garden beds and into the distant rose garden. I comfort myself with the fact that if nothing else, the mint smells incredible when trod upon by wandering feet.

Not only do weeds make our gardens appear untidy, they also compete with our treasured plants for moisture, light and nutrients. As well, many weed species shelter insects and diseases, therefore eliminating weeds can increase the general health of your garden.

Have you ever noticed that when a weed is pulled from the garden, it seems as if two more grow in its place? Most weeds are not only extremely hardy and competitive, but they also produce profuse amounts of seed that sprout up year after year. Weed seeds may remain dormant in the soil for several seasons before germinating, and it is therefore vital to eliminate weeds before they are allowed to produce seeds.

Mulch is a great weed suppressor and is readily available from most garden centers in the form of wood chips, shredded bark, pea gravel or chopped leaves. Applied after weed removal (sorry, not before!), mulch will create a clean, attractive appearance and help repel encroaching weeds from your garden beds. It will also suppress further weed seed germination by blocking light from reaching the soil.

A two to three-inch layer of mulch is usually sufficient to suppress weed growth, but if you have particularly persistent weeds a four-inch thick layer may be required. Ensure that the mulch does not come in direct contact with the stems or trunks of your plants as slugs, moles and other small plant-eating creatures may lurk there.

In the veggie patch, planting intensively (see the photo above of some baby greens) is a great weed suppressor! In fact, in our 2000 sq foot kitchen garden, weeds are rarely a problem (knock on wood!) If I notice something sprouting up as I'm picking a salad for supper, I pluck it out immediately! Grassy weeds are my biggest problem in the veggies - but the fact that my hubby stands on the nearby lawn, tossing grass seed into the air to thicken up 'his lawn' might have something to do with it..

The best defense against persistent weeds in the garden or in the lawn is to keep your plants and grass healthy. Healthy plants will be able to outcompete weeds easier than those that have been weakened by drought, damage or disease. Be vigilant in the war against weeds by spending a few minutes each week removing any newly sprouted offenders. This will save you much future time and frustration and most importantly, your garden will thank you for it.

Happy Gardening!


  1. Ah, you have yet to meet Bindweed. The all-that-is-unholy of the weed kingdom. Our entire backyard is covered in it (thanks to it being fallow for 3+ years before we moved in). You pull it and you will never get the root - so not even a twinge of satisfaction. =( It snaps off too easily and the roots can be up to 24" deep. 3" a mulch is like a dare to it. And it will always win. The only thing that I've read that will kill it is to lay black plastic down for 3-4 years. This will probably be our next step. Not even herbicides work on it.

  2. Oh Rachel - I'm so sorry! I am familiar with bindweed, but very thankful it's not in my garden! Yikes.. good luck with that.. A similar weed is also Japanese Knotweed - brought over as an ornamental by early settlers, but now a voracious weed that spreads rapidly and is very difficult to control.. also goutweed.. and..

    Obviously I could go on! :) Thanks for your comment..

  3. And then there's Horsetail. One of the oldest plants in the world apparently,it doesn't give up very easily.As a very green gardener once,I roto-tilled excessively until those horsetail roots were chopped up and spread around enough to give me at least 5 years of grief(and deep digging). Now,with over 4000 sq. feet of garden almost free of it, I can rest a little easier at the end of the day! pete

  4. We have gotten our weeds under control by going back to nice straight rows of vegetables with cultivated soil paths. We easily keep it all weeded by using this wheel hoe that we just push up and down the rows a couple times a week. Much better for our old backs!


Please feel free to leave comments. I welcome your tips, questions, thoughts and ideas (and suggestions for new veggies to grow!)