Figuring out how to weed your garden is like being married. Everyone’s relationship with their garden is different and the bottom line is you get out of it what you put into it. But, just like a marriage, even though it takes energy, you want it to be directed energy and as fun as possible. There is always going to be some of the nitty gritty of working things out and dealing with issues, but you want to spend most of your time enjoying what you are doing. Some of that just involves the right attitude. Some of it means recognizing what it is best to focus on. Some of your progress can only be had by experience and long term commitment. Keeping weeding to a bare minimum might be compared to not spending more time than necessary paying bills or doing the laundry for some people, but for others weeding might be similar to the satisfaction of organizing a messy room. All of these activities are included in the mundane facets of life that are irrevocably intertwined with being married. You get to choose how to approach them and make them work in your situation.
In light of this backwards metaphor, here is a list of suggestions for weeding your garden. Keep in mind, these are things I tell myself, so this is not self-righteous preaching:
1. Keep the whole goal of gardening in mind, to help work on your attitude. Just like always complaining about your spouses “irritating” habits does more harm than good, always whining about weeding makes the job harder than it needs to be. And without weeding, the garden will not do well.
2. Have some basic habits of routine that help you to get some weeding done before it is a huge problem. Just like when putting off necessary and regular communication in a marriage creates problems, so does putting off regular weeding.
3. Such habits could include going out for a few minutes at a certain time of day or on certain days of the week. Or you might have a chart of your yard that helps you keep track of where weeding has been done and needs to be attended to. Choose times of day you find pleasant to be outside, if at all possible. Also, take short breaks to have something to drink and stretch your muscles, so that you will not be so sore that you shrink from going back out. Think of such good, regular habits as brushing your teeth so that your spouse will want to kiss you.
4. Don’t unnecessarily stimulate weeds to germinate. Only watering where you want things to grow, like with soaker hoses; or avoiding turning over soil with routine tilling, which tens to encourage weed seeds to sprout; plus, spreading green mulch or water that is carrying weed seeds are all ways to help with this problem. From here on out, I think I will let you come up with your own marriage metaphors.
5. Similar to #4, pay particular attention to weeds that are flowering. Seeding is not far behind. It is almost always in your best interest to pull flowering weeds as soon as you see them, even if you are just on your way to do something else.
6. Always throw away weeds that are going to seed or that are known to propagate via stem or root. That means do not put them in your compost pile or feed them to your chickens. You already have enough weeds from wild birds hanging out in your garden. For one thing, some of the weeds (roots and seeds) will end up being “scratched” into the ground before the chickens eat them. There they lie safe and dormant until you collect compost from the chicken area… Okay, I can’t help myself. If something in your marriage has been dealt with, don’t dig it up again when you are angry or moody.
7. It can also be helpful to know which weeds the chickens think are delicious, which are the type of thing I have learned when writing about my backyard weeds. They will tend to eat these weeds right away. Try to stock the cupboards with foods your spouse likes?
8. Try to weed when the garden has been watered fairly recently, not when it is dry or muddy. Having the soil be slightly moist will greatly decrease the effort needed to extract the roots from the soil, meaning you will get more done more quickly.
9. Learn which weeds pull easiest at which stage of growth. Sometimes it is way too much effort to pick a bunch of tiny weeds. It will be much easier if you wait until they are a bit bigger. Just don’t forget, and don’t let them get big enough to weaken your desired plants by taking up all their water and space. Marriage? Don’t be nit-picky about the small stuff, in yourself or your spouse, but be honest about what you need to change.
10. Keep an eye on the weather for a good time to spray weed killer in the more open areas of the garden. This is much less labor intensive than hand pulling or hoeing. If done and timed right, using weed killers wisely can greatly reduce weed growth and propagation. If you are concerned about weed killers or interested in knowing more about the options, I suggest this blog post I wrote about understanding and using glyphosate. There is also this book, The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line, and this one, The Truth About Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Whywhich are quite helpful.
11. Everyone says mulch, and this is true, but think outside the box some. Don’t get hung up on magazine photos. Think about what you have on hand or have access to, even if it is not your picture perfect long term solution. For instance, a few flattened cardboard boxes can keep things under control in a garden pathway short term. Another option is scraps of old carpet or scrap wood. These can be hide-outs for critters that come out at night to eat your edibles, so you might need to be careful of the wetter shade for those pathway coverings. There is also my stand-by of spreading grass clippings, too. Sometimes real love just covers things up and chooses not to get upset!
12. Let go of that old mantra that “anything worth doing is worth doing right.” This is grossly misapplied to discourage people from doing what they can at the moment. If you can only break off some bindweed at the roots, to get rid of the blooms and tangles on your shrubs, do it. You can try to get the roots later. If you feel like chopping of the tops of weeds with a hoe, go for it. Something is better than nothing. If it is the heat of summer, they might not grow back anyway. At least not this year.
13. Keep bags on hand for disposing of your weeds. I use a combination of empty feed sacks, plastic yard bags, and various cardboard boxes. The point is to have something you can regularly fill up. It helps you clean up and it gives you something to count. If smaller bags make you feel more productive and motivated, use them.
14. Evaluate your garden pathways for long term solutions. Implement these ideas as you can. I laid pavers between my raised beds because edging that much grass was not happening. I still have to weed between the pavers some, but they help a lot. Okay, I hired children to help put in the pavers. It worked out for everyone.
15. Take a walk through your garden every now and then with a notepad and pen. Enjoy the successes. Jot down notes about needs. If you have your yard chart mentioned above, mark where there particularly large weeds that you need to come back to with a shovel or tool. This would also be a good way to guide hired help if you have the option or desire to hire someone.
If you start to feel overwhelmed at the task, take a step back and ask yourself why. Maybe it is just your own expectations. Maybe there is something to do different next year and now would be a good time to make some notes. Mostly, remember that weeds just grow. In everyone’s garden. You share a common enemy. Much of life involves tasks of care taking and your garden is no different. If you do what it takes, you will reap the rewards.