A Word on Weeding

By Deborah Clark
NABBW’s Gardening Expert

In the perennial garden, this is the time of summer to rest on your laurels and enjoy looking at your garden. It\’s too hot to plant anything.

But we still must weed.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to encourage me to weed by telling me it was “good for the soul.” While I was out there building character, she disappeared — to read a book no doubt, and not a gardening book. Mom used to pull up new flowers her friends give her, but I apprenticed long and hard to learn to know friend from interloper in the garden. There\’s no better way to learn than get out there and take a good look.

A weed is just a plant growing in places where you don\’t want it. If grass grows among your flowers and you don\’t want it there, then it\’s a weed. Or if a perennial pops up somewhere you don\’t want it to grow, like in the middle of your stone patio, in the vegetable garden, or in the territory of other perennials, you can consider it a weed too. In your perennial garden, you\’ll want to allow each perennial space to spread and grow and fill a specified area. Your garden will become a series of such areas, with some of the flowers repeating in more than one spot in the garden, like a checkerboard of many colors. As your eye becomes more attuned to the look of a flower garden, you\’ll get better at this. In order to keep the appearance of a well-tended perennial garden, you\’ll need to pull out anything that intrudes into an area where it wasn\’t invited.

Weeding the right things is a challenge for many beginning perennial gardeners. When several plants emerge at different times, it\’s easy to mistake flowers for weeds. If you have trouble recognizing weeds, then make a rule not to yank anything you\’re unsure of: When in doubt, don\’t. As you become more familiar with the perennials you\’ve chosen to grow, you will also learn to differentiate them from the weeds. And you\’ll get to recognize the weeds well enough to be able to swear at them by name. It\’s really about recognizing leaf shapes. The trick is to learn to recognize the weed before it gets so big that yanking it out disrupts other plants.

Weeding is like doing cutwork embroidery, removing threads in order to make a pattern. Only instead of threads, it\’s plants. Take your time, watch and wait. Weeding takes concentration, determination and patience. Maybe that\’s why Mom said it was good for the soul.

Deborah Clark says she might never have taken up gardening if she hadn’t had neighbors who shared their love of gardening with her – but moved away.

It all started in 1973, she says, when a departing neighbor invited her to take care of an already-planted community vegetable garden plot: all she had to do was weed and harvest. She was hooked.