Queen Anne’s lace is among the more attractive weeds, but it is aggressive and can crowd out more desirable plants. Photo by Tom Atwell

Weeding gets tiresome at this time of year. In the vegetable gardens, the perennial borders, the flower beds and even the container-grown plants, the weeding never stops.

“I spend all of this time weeding, and I’m the only one who ever notices,” a friend told me while she was weeding in her flower beds earlier this summer.

She later admitted that she actually enjoys weeding when she has the time: It is mindless, so you can meditate about other things while you pull out the clover, jewelweed and crabgrass encroaching on your more desirable plants. She said she finds it relaxing.

Weeding is easier when you know what is a weed and what isn’t. In a neat vegetable garden, this is easy. The crops are planted in rows, you recognize the peas, lettuce or carrots in the row, and you pull out everything else.

Flower gardens and perennial borders are different. They are more attractive with a less linear design, and you need more knowledge to tell what are desirable ornamentals as opposed to undesirable weeds.

This is one of the reasons a plot plan helps, or if you don’t have a plot plan, a memory of what you planted, and where. You will then know to pull out everything else. The problem is that very young desirable plants don’t always look the same as they do when they are mature.

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The same is true with weeds, but you don’t have to identify what the weed is that you are pulling. You just have to recognize that it isn’t what you planted. And once your desirable plants drop seeds that grow into baby plants, you need to decide whether you want more of them or not. It depends on your mindset.

It also helps to have knowledgeable friends or relatives.

Our son and his wife bought a home with existing gardens late last fall, and throughout this spring, we received regular photographs from him with the tag line: “Is this a weed?”

He’s a good photographer and had clear closeups of the plant, and we were able to give good advice from 100 miles away.

Some plants are both weeds and desirable, like Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, a biennial native to Europe but found throughout the United States. Its white lace-cap flowers and fern-like foliage are attractive, but it can be aggressive and crowd out more desirable plants. So it’s a good plant sometimes. Other times, it’s not.

Weeding might be relaxing, but between working for pay, entertaining company and other summer events, finding time for the chore can be stressful. That is why setting priorities is important.

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It is easiest to pull up weeds after a rain when the soil is moist. Of course, it hasn’t rained much this year. You can water the garden before doing the weeding, but that adds more time to the project.

Here are the key things I have learned after 45 years of weeding and watching my wife, Nancy, weed better than I do.

Never let a weed go to seed. If a weed flowers and produces seeds that fall to the ground, those weeds will stay there for many years, giving you weed problems for what seems like forever. If you can’t get rid of a weed before it drops its seeds, at least cut off the spent bloom before the seeds fall.

Always carry a trowel, whether you are picking vegetables, cutting flowers or just enjoying the garden. If you see a weed, dig it out while you are there. It helps if you carry a bucket to hold the weeds, but that’s not required. Just collect them in your other hand.

It is best if you can get the weeds roots and all, because many weeds re-sprout from the smallest bit left in the ground. But if you leave some behind, or even just cut off the weed at ground level, you have set the weed back and freed up space for the plants you want.

A mulch – purchased bark mulch, ground up leaves, straw or something similar – slows down weed production but doesn’t prevent it. That is a personal choice. We tested in our garden a chopped-up, recycled plastic “rug” supposedly to be used to replace bark mulch. In this, its second growing season, Nancy found weeds sprouted within the fake mulch. We’ve also had the experience of finding weeds growing on top of black “landscape fabric,” which shows that weeding is needed everywhere and also why we stopped using landscape fabric decades ago.

I should mention the weeds don’t grow just in your gardens. They sprout in cracks in the driveway, walkway and patio – if you have any of those. We have thin tools designed for pulling out such weeds, but even an old screwdriver will work. The key point of all of this is that you are never going to defeat the weeds, but you can’t let them defeat you. Don’t let them seed, and yank them at least before the snow covers the ground.

Weeds will never be our friends, but we can co-exist peacefully.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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