Kitchen Gardening

Effective, Old-Fashioned Weed Pulling

No matter how great the gardening advances, sometimes nothing compares with good, old-fashioned manual labor.

These seeds will reproduce the dandelion -- but so will its roots. Photo by  Daehyun Park  under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

No matter how great the gardening advances, sometimes nothing compares with good, old-fashioned manual labor. Hand-pulling weeds whenever you can is often the very best way to stay one step ahead of them. The key with pulling weeds, of course, is the timing. (Hey, I don’t make these garden rules, I’m just the messenger.)

Pulling Annual Weeds by Hand

Weeds such as lamb’s quarters, carpetweed, annual sedge, chickweed, crab grass, knotweed, and Japanese clover are all annuals. These weeds should be pulled up before they produce seed heads. This is key to annual weed eradication because if you let those little seed heads mature, they’re going to scatter themselves silly all over your yard and garden – leading to a bigger battle.

The best time to hand-pull weeds is after a good rain. In fact, there’s a weeding technique called “pre-sprouting” where you purposefully wait until right after a good spring rain to weed the garden because they tend to miraculously pop up at this point. These weeds can also be added to your compost pile because the seeds heads haven’t formed, and there’s no way fro them to reproduce.

Some vegetable gardeners will pull them up and then bury them right into the veggie bed for added nitrogen. The important thing here is that they lack seeds heads when they’re tossed into the pile. Of course, those who keep an extremely hot compost pile may add some seed heads anyway. But if you’re not tending the pile regularly, leave weeds with seed heads out.

Hand-Dig Out Perennial Weeds

So what about weeds such as  bindweed, dandelion, purslane, Queen Anne’s lace, burdock, nut grass, Burmuda grass, and curly dock? Well, perennial weeds are a horse of a different color. If you just yank them up by hand willy-nilly, you may end up with more than you started out with. Aside from seed, this crafty group also reproduces by stolon, runners, and tubers underground.

Of course, removing them from garden beds and landscaping before seed head form is still the right thing to do.  But you should take extra care to dig them out of the ground completely — removing the entire plant structure so that they have no chance of using their stolon-runner-tuber reproductive back up plan.

For those of you awesome gardeners that keep compost piles, I don’t trust these characters and prefer to keep them out of my compost. It may be actually work out fine for certain perennial weeds, but one or two bad experiences will make you swear this practice off.

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