Juli has been gardening in her yard for 21 years. She has almost run out of room for plants, shrubs and trees. Almost.
Weeds and Wildflowers
Once there was a grandmother who allowed Queen Anne’s Lace (wild carrot) to grow between the evergreen bushes in the front of her house, much to the dismay of her family. "Aren’t you going to pull that weed?" her family would ask. "No. I like its flower," she would say. “A weed here is a flower somewhere else.”
If it’s in the woods, the plant is called a wildflower. If it's an unwanted plant growing in the yard, it's a weed.
A weed becomes a problem in your yard when it competes with your plantings for nutrients in the soil, sunlight, and water. It can crowd out the plants that you choose to grow. Leave one weed and it quickly becomes a group. Often you know if you’ve neglected your weeding duties because there’s a whole patch of something that doesn’t fit the garden design. Well–suited to the climate they grow in, they’re abundant. They pop up in places a homeowner/gardener would not expect. Whether courtesy of the wind, birds, pollinators, pets’ fur, or traveling the yard on a gardener’s shoes, weed seeds disperse and take root.
In nature they have a purpose. Weed flowers attract pollinator insects like bees and butterflies. There would not be as many fruits and vegetables without pollinators. The pollen they transfer from flower to flower starts the process that eventually produces the food we pick and eat like apples, peppers, and tomatoes. Weed seeds feed birds. Parts of some are edible. Their flowers often are pretty too. However while hardy outside, their flowers don't seem to last a day in a vase indoors.
Since you made the choice to plant certain flowers, weeds will have to go. But using toxins to kill weeds can be bad for your health and your family's health. This includes pets who are closest to the ground and the toxins. Bees, butterflies, and other wildlife like birds are harmed as well.
Here are some green steps you can take that will get rid of weeds and protect your family and yard from toxins.
Gear You'll Need
- Gloves to protect hands.
- Pad to kneel on or sit on.
- Dandelion weeder or weed fork.
- Small shovel.
- Bucket or bag to put the weeds in.
- Bottle of water to stay hydrated.
- Insect repellent if mosquitoes are out. Better yet: wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt and long socks to cover up.
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Dig It Out
Remove the root so it doesn't grow back.
Using a small shovel, dig underneath the root ball of the weed. Most have roots that are shallower than the plants you put in. They will come out of the ground with a little leverage on the handle.
One well known exception to a weed with shallow roots is the dandelion. It has a taproot. A taproot is long and thick and strong. It grows deep into the soil. It takes in water and nutrients to support the seedling and later the grown plant. If you don’t remove all of it, a new plant grows from it. Use the dandelion weeder. It is also a digging tool but the forked end can go under the taproot of a dandelion. It’s useful for other weeds as well.
Some weeds that are best dug out to ensure root removal: Perennial weeds like dandelion, field bindweed, and wild strawberry come back every year because of a deep root system that survives winter. Biennial weeds like common mullein and wild carrot (Queen Anne's Lace) also need to be dug out. Biennial weeds grow roots and leaves the first year. The second year before they die, they have flowers, fruits, and seeds, which start their two-year cycle over again.
Pull It Out
Gather the weed’s leaves in your hand, try to get a grip on the root just below, and give a slow, steady, strong tug. It should come out root and all.
Examples of some weeds that can be pulled to diminish their numbers: annual weeds like oxalis, horse weed, and spurge. Annuals spread by reseeding in the same season.
A weed plant is deprived of light with this method.
Often there are a lot of weeds in one area. One option is to cut the group of weeds short, as close to the ground as you can. Put 3-4 layers of newspaper over the cut weeds. Wet the newspaper down to keep in place and spread two to three inches of mulch on top.
Some weeds that are reduced by this method: Annuals like common purslane and common chickweed. Perennial plants with taproots like dandelions and broadleaf plantain can't get enough light to grow.
Another option is to grow ground cover that forms a mat like perennial geraniums or lamb’s ear. Use plants that grow together very tightly like pachysandra. They leave little if any room for a weed to grow because they’re so dense.
These two methods are most often used on a weed plant growing in cracks in the driveway or between pavers of a walkway or patio.
A stream of undiluted vinegar from a clean spray bottle is too much acid for the plant. Good aim is essential here. Aim at the weed’s center. Use on a hot sunny day. The combination of acid vinegar and hot sun will destroy it. Be careful not to spray vinegar on other plants because it will have the same effect. In most cases, the leaves of the plant will die. The root will not be harmed. May have to reapply several times throughout the summer to kill the plant.
Pouring boiling hot water on a weed also kills at least the leaves at the top of the weed. A stream of boiling water can wilt a plant in a day or so. But exercise caution with this method; boiling hot water will not only kill other plants but could burn you. Safety first! Use the tea kettle you boiled the water in. It controls the stream of hot water better than an open pan. Wear long pants and closed toe shoes. Keep other people like children away while you do this. Keep your pets inside also.
Be Less Hospitable
If in the lawn, cut the grass by 1/3. Longer grass competes for sunlight and the shorter weed will get less light. Honestly, even in the thickest grass, a weed will take hold. Resort to pulling or digging it out.
Change the pH of the soil slightly. Just like other plants, weeds have optimum growing conditions—type of soil, light, water. Soil tests are a good way to figure out what could be added to the dirt in your yard to discourage weeds. Soil test kits are available in the garden department of many stores. Go online and query “soil testing” for your state. There’s lots of information from your state extension service and state department of natural resources. You may learn all about the geology of your area in addition to soil test information.
Live With Some of it
Nothing’s perfect. Surprise weeds pop up hale and hardy in the very place you worked so hard to clear out two days ago. Just pull them out. Tell yourself you're raising wild bees and butterflies and they like wildflowers for food. Bees make honey. Butterflies make the world pretty. If you like the wildflower growing in your bushes, say so!
Removing weeds by hand is the organic way to keep your yard safe from toxins while making your yard look nice. You can visit and appreciate the wildflowers in the woods.
Best Time to Remove Weeds
- Before they go to seed which is right after they bloom.
- When it’s wet after a good rain or after you’ve watered well. The ground is soft. The weed often slides out easily.
- While they’re small. Roots aren’t deep or established. Caution: if you're not sure whether it’s a weed or something you planted, wait until it grows a little more. Then you will know what both look like when they’re small.
Benefits for You
- Work out frustration. No one will complain if you take it out on the weeds. They’ll still think you’re a nice person.
- Physical exercise. Stooping and straightening up is good for the core muscles as well as leg muscles. For large weedy areas sit or kneel on a mat to protect your back. Your arms will still get the benefit from the pulling action.
- Being outdoors in fresh air and sunshine with birds singing and insects humming is peaceful.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Juli Seyfried