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Garden, Weeds - Lynette Walther

The top 10 ways to get rid of weeds

By Lynette L. Walther
Dandelions have a deep taproot that makes them
difficult to pull. But there’s more than one way
to kill a weed, and it need not involve the use
of herbicides. Photo by Lynette L. Walther
It’s easy to tell the “weeds,” the undesirables, from the “real plants,” those plants we pamper, prune and cajole into blooming or producing edibles for us. The weeds are the ones that bloom with an obvious uncivilized abandon, all the while their tenacious roots hold onto Mother Earth for dear life. Some, dandelions for instance, almost require a blasting cap to get them out of the lawn. Compare that with your fussy, difficult-to-grow plant—a delphinium for instance. A stern look or moderate breeze is about all it takes to separate it from terra firma. Yet there’s a certain sensuality to pulling weeds—that wonderful warm-all-over feeling of satisfaction you get when you manage to extract the entire root of a dandelion. I’ve spent more than one pleasant summer afternoon working on hands and knees, with a bucket close at hand to hold the casualties, as I wrestled tough plantain plants out of the lawn. There’s a season of sorts for pulling this spurge of the lawn. Go after them too soon in the year, and their undeveloped leaves break off at the base. The best time to pull these weeds is as they begin to send up their little, club-like seed spikes. Firmly grasp all the leaves of the plant, give a gentle tug, then another, and soon its close-packed network of short roots should break loose. So there’s no time like the present to attack that patch of plantain. An item for August in the 1867 volume of The Old Farmer’s Almanack emphasizes the timeliness of weeding. “I’ve said so much about weeds that I am sorry to speak of them again,” it states. “But they’ll be going to seed now, and need looking after more carefully than ever.” Plantain was once referred to as “white man’s footsteps” by Native Americans, because it thrives where foot traffic is heaviest and not surprisingly, stands up to abuse like no other plant can. Early colonists brought plantain from their European homelands because it is a valuable medicinal plant. The very act of pulling plantain helps to loosen up and aerate the hard soil. Plantain, dandelions, henbit, and all those other undesirables culled from the lawn or flower bed make good additions to the compost pile, giving your efforts extra value. A quiet afternoon spent methodically pulling weeds is one of the best ways I know of to let your mind ramble, a good excuse to daydream away a late summer afternoon. But there are more ways to foil weeds than pulling them by hand. Here are my top choices—and there isn’t even a hint of herbicide in the list: •Smother weeds with a thick layer of mulch • Turn weeds under with a shovel • Chop off the weeds’ heads with a scuffle or other hoe • Boil ‘em! Pour thin stream of boiling water on the offending plant • Crowd them out by closely-planting your garden beds • Mow weeds down, the shorter the better • Beg, borrow or rent a goat. Seriously, these four-footed weed whackers are good for large areas of weeds • Incinerate ‘em. Carefully, using a blowtorch (heh, heh, heh), wilt the offending weed without actually producing flames. Best for stubborn weeds in a walkway or other protected area • Pull them up (see sidebar) • Stomp them to a pulp. A last resort, but one that is curiously gratifying
A Better Mouse Trap
The "Weed Hound" by Hound Dog Backyard Tools
Visit their website:
Photos courtesy of Hound Dog
It might surprise you to learn that home gardeners apply herbicides and pesticides to their lawns and gardens at a rate nearly five times greater than that used in agricultural applications, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. One way to cut back on that alarming trend is to hand-pull weeds. Revolutionary in this laborious task is a long-handled weeder that takes the strain out of the chore by allowing the pulling of weeds from a standing position. It’s no stretch to state that this revolutionary tool almost makes weed-pulling fun. No, not almost; It does. Because the roots come up along with those offending weeds, there’s that wonderful sense of accomplishment that comes as each root system is wrenched free. This tool could well be the answer to many gardeners’ prayers. Well, maybe perfect weather is first on most gardener wish lists, but a pleasurable way to eliminate weeds would surely be a close second. Metal prongs at the end of the long-handled Weed Hound are inserted around the weed. With a push of the foot, the weed is pulled up—roots and all. It’s one of those tools that simply can’t be put down. It even handles those tenacious buttercups with ease, and painlessly pulls prickly thistles and nettle. This hound dog hunts. There’s just one problem: With this tool there’s the unending temptation to pull just one more weed.

Contributing Garden Editor Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award and the IABC Silver Quill Award of Excellence. She is a member of the Garden Writers Association. She gardens in Camden.

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