Making Peace with Weeds

Lyre leaf sage is a beautiful “weed” that I keep in my garden alongside other native plants because I love the sky blue blooms each spring. This native salvia reseeds with abandon, so I control it by removing the seed heads each spring as best I can. I dug the original plant out of the middle of my lawn, recognizing its distinctive tawny leaves, and knowing that I could have many more plants from just one mother plant.

Let’s be real. Removing weeds from your garden is probably your least favorite summer activity. I’ve read about people who find this task relaxing, but I’ve yet to meet a person who looks forward to pulling weeds. I love my garden, but I don’t love my weeds.

Why are there so many weeds lurking in my garden soil?

You and I both know that all that green stuff, whether we like it or not, is actually a good thing. It keeps our valuable topsoil from washing away. (The kudzu vines romping through the South are a classic example of man’s attempt to solve this problem.) If you clear a piece of land here in Georgia, bare clay will be cloaked in verdant green within a few short months. Wait a few years and you’ll see a young pine forest.

Our lawns and gardens and frilly flower pots are not part of the grand scheme on planet earth, but that doesn’t change the fact that some of us are still determined to grow things, pretty things that make us happy, and things that taste good.

Fleabane is a very pretty weed, perfect for a meadow-style planting when grown from seed, but I suspect most homeowners would place it in the weed category. No-mow May doesn’t work well in the South, so I suspect most people only see this blooming along with highway.

So the question is, how does a gardener deal with all the undesirable plants that appear in summer no matter how perfectly we applied mulch, or how well our perennials have blanketed the ground?

After spending some time this week as a volunteer pulling weeds in an old church garden with a friend, I was reminded that weeding is always better with good tools. A trowel and gloves are fine, but I feel that you need something much sharper. I joke that my garden tools get more dangerous as I get older, but it’s true.

I may have alarmed my future son-in-law a few years back when I opened a Christmas package containing a Japanese hori-hori tool, removed it from its sheath, and exclaimed “YEEEEESSSSS”.

Today I thought I would share some of my favorite tools and also a few easy methods for keeping weeds under control.

This is a Kusakichi Nejiri scraper, a bargain at $12.99, sold by a California company called Hida Tool. This allows you to scrape off young weeds in a raised bed or vegetable garden, however, I have found it useful on uphill slopes where I need to hack at clay soil and loosen the roots of a weed or grass. That scraping edge is super sharp, so I keep it covered when in my tote bag for obvious reasons. You can get a long-handled version if you prefer. Hida is a great resource for many other gardening tools.

I had never used a scuffle hoe until I purchased this one from Rogue Hoe Company, and again, it has a very sharp blade, so it is ideal for cutting off or knocking down smallish weeds in bark mulch or bare ground in a veg patch. There are many other types of similar hoes, but again, I lean toward sharp tools these days, so this is what I use.

This hori hori trowel, or knife as it is often called, is very popular with gardeners here and across the pond, and it is truly a multipurpose tool for weeding, planting, and dividing. One side is serrated and this tool is very sturdy so you can really get in there and do whatever you need to do without fear that you’re damaging the blade. It is sharp, but not so sharp that you can accidentally cut yourself, unlike the tools above, which do require some common sense when handling and transporting.
This tool is a recent purchase and I do use it for tough lawn weeds like dallas grass, which is hard to remove by hand, but I also use it when removing weeds at the edge of my woods, so that I’m less likely to get a tick on me, which might happen if I’m reaching for grassy weeds. 
To use this tool, you place your foot on the bottom ledge of the tool, press down and  two heavy prongs are pushed into the soil. You then twist it around and that motion helps grab the plant and roots. It has a release button so that you can drop the plant in your bucket. You have to be sure you’re stabbing the plant in the very center, which is hard to gauge sometimes, but I do get this tool out of the shed often. This is much easier than using a spade and probably digs up less dirt in the process.

A few other simple tips:

My favorite way to control any weeds that pop up in stone walkways or between pavers is very hot boiling water, with a splash of vinegar added to it, poured out of a kettle. This works very well where you’re not trying to grow anything, such as a driveway or gravel walkway. It’s not a good idea in an area where you’re trying to grow something because it will kill the organisms living in the soil. 
Another method I’ve used lately is a sheet of cardboard with a mulch layer shoveled over it. If you have a stubborn weed area in a bed, cover the weed patch with a piece of cardboard that has been softened by soaking it in water briefly. Then apply mulch or pine straw over the cardboard. The weed will be starved of light and will eventually kick the bucket. I don’t ever place cardboard directly under trees or shrubs because I want to be sure the roots near the soil surface can breathe and also that rainfall will reach them easily. This is handy if you have a large property because there is always a spot where it is too shady, too hot, or too dry to apply anything but mulch and this keeps weed problems to a minimum in those types of areas.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas for dealing with weeds. If you’ve read anything on this website, you’ll know that I’m an organic gardener and I only use herbicides when faced with poison ivy that I can’t dig up, or something horribly invasive that I need to control in my lawn. I have friends that use chemicals, and I don’t judge, but I do what makes sense for me. I personally don’t want to be exposed to a lot of herbicides or pesticides. We’re all exposed to various chemicals in every day life, so in my garden I do what I can to minimize that contact. In gardening, and in life, you have to find what works best for you. Happy gardening!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *