Weeds. Weeds. Weeds and more weeds!
It’s early June and after a cold, rainy start to spring here in the northeast we finally have some nice weather! While outdoor gardens are starting to come into their own, weeds are loving this weather too! It’s time to focus on weeding.
What is a weed?
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that a weed is “A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Are weeds always noxious, undesirable or invasive? In reality, a weed is quite simply any uninvited plant. Situation and preference are important. Dandelions were once ripped out of lawns with a vengeance. Bee and pollinator enthusiasts now encourage us to let dandelions grow as a good source of pollen.
You might have an accumulation of marigold seedlings popping up where last year’s flowers grew. I have tons of tomato seedlings coming up in my raised beds from a few of last year’s tomatoes left to overwinter in soil. Whatever uninvited plants you have growing in your garden, weeds may eventually out-compete the plants you do want to cultivate.
“One year’s seeds, seven years’ seeds.” Get to those weeds early, before they flower and go to seed. One plant can produce hundreds or even thousands of seeds. A very common weed, purslane, is capable of producing millions of seeds per plant. That now-desirable dandelion may produce about 2,000 wind dispersed seeds per plant each year. Might there be a balance to strike with dandelions?
What is the best way to remove weeds?
For the home gardener, hand weeding is the best and safest way to remove weeds. Remove weeds before they flower and go to seed. We want to avoid using weed killers which are not great for the environment. Get out your gardening gloves and a good tool for removing weeds. You should remove not only the above-ground plant but the roots as well. Good tools for weed removal include trowels, asparagus tools (has a v-shaped end point), a hoe dag (mini pick axe), or a garden knife, such as the Hori-Hori Japanese garden knife. There are other narrow garden tools for weeding between paving stones. Removing those weeds before they go to seed is time well-spent!
Is it ok to use weed killer products?
If you are contemplating using chemical weed killers, do your research beforehand and weigh out the risks. Professionals who apply pesticides and herbicides are subject to strict regulations and must obtain an applicators license after a lengthy exam, followed by mandatory CEU classes and periodic license re-examination. Homeowners, however, in many cases may purchase the same pesticides or herbicides right off the shelf.
Frequently, homeowners apply these products without first reading the label and or using proper protective gear. Keep in mind that weed killers may also kill or damage the plants you want in your garden. Some weeds are resistant to weed killers. Also, take into consideration how your lawn and garden will be used by pets and humans. Even homemade weeds killer, such as solutions made with vinegar, can be harmful if applied incorrectly. It might be better in the long run to pull those weeds by hand.
Weeds are a reality!
Gardeners with even little experience know that weeds are a reality. Weed seeds arrive in our gardens in many ways. Seeds are wind-dispersed, dropped by birds, or carried on animal coats. Some plants have explosive seed pods (dehiscent), dispersing seeds far and wide.
Hand weeding has an added benefit of putting you down on the ground with an up-close look at your plants. It’s a good way to check in, keeping an eye on plant health and problems such as damage from insect infestations and diseases. Gardening is an opportunity for endless learning. As you weed your garden, check for vegetables to harvest or flowers to cut for bouquets. Weeding your garden might actually become an enjoyable activity!