The Urban Gardener: Weeding Stinks

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A lovely plot of weeds. With a few beet greens struggling through. [Photographs: Lauren Rothman]

My least favorite part of gardening is weeding. Sure, I try to get all zen about it, and just plop myself down in the dirt, tune out the cars on the highway nearby, and listen to the birds singing in the trees that line said highway. I strive to enjoy the sunshine warming my shoulders and back, and the feel of the soil, so rich with life-giving potential, pushing itself up under my fingernails. I attempt to take in everything that I see going on in the earth as my fingers rake through it—the worms and pillbugs fleeing for their lives (as fast as bugs can flee, anyway) as I, a giant mutant, dash apart their homes; I see if I can identify the loathsome plant species as I tear them out of the ground; I stay still as the mockingbird who lives nearby arrives, like clockwork, only a few minutes after I start messing around in the soil, to eat up those insects I've dislodged.

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Can you see 'em? Little crimson beet tops amid the green weeds.

And sometimes—sometimes—it nearly works. If it's a particularly nice day—warm, but not hot; dry and breezy—or if I've got nothing much else planned, I can almost manage to achieve the tranquility I so often find when engaging in other gardening tasks like watering, transplanting, staking, and checking for bugs. But, you see, I've never been a patient person. So it's hard for me to spend hours—and it can take hours—studiously examining and then ever-so-carefully plucking little plants from the ground.

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Oh hey, another forest of weeds—this one with carrots attempting to survive.

The thing is, weed control is absolutely essential to a thriving garden. Weeds rob each and every vital element—sunlight, water, and nutrients—from the plants you actually want to flourish, inhibiting their growth and development. So as tough as it can be sometimes, I make sure to squeeze in as many weeding sessions as my busy schedule will allow.

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Another Where's Waldo: can you spot the frilly carrot tops?

So today I'd like to humbly offer you some weeding tips. Here we go!

Weeding 101: Some Tips

  • Wait for a dry day: Weeding will be easier on you—and on your garden—if you attack the task after a stretch of dry, sunny days. Firstly, the weeds will pull out of the dry soil much more easily, and secondly, they'll leave behind much more soil.
  • Shake, shake, shake those roots out: It's important to give the roots of the weeds you pull out a good shake to get as much soil off of them—and back into the garden—as possible. If the soil really clumps on the roots, I pinch it off—time-consuming, but important.
  • Take your time: When you're picking your way around tiny, tiny seedlings—as I was with the carrot patch—you need to go very slowly to ensure that you're not inadvertently pulling out the very plants you're attempting to liberate.
  • Consider mulching: When transplanting seedlings into the garden, it's a very good idea to cover the area around them in one of the many kinds of mulch available at garden centers. Mulch will not only physically inhibit weeds from poking through, but will heat up in the sun and literally fry weeds before they can poke through the soil. It's a huge time-saver. A cheap, organic method of mulching that I plan to use once my neighbor saves up enough grass clippings from her lawn is to cover the area you want to mulch with a few layers of wet newspaper, then a layer of grass clippings. This method is cheap and incredibly effective, and as the newspaper and grass decompose they will enrich the soil underneath.
  • Don't drive yourself crazy: If you're compulsive like me, it can be tempting to try to eradicate every single weed. But feeling compelled to do so will make weeding take forever, and therefore make you less likely to want to do it in the first place. As long as you pull out a majority of weeds, your plants will do just fine.
  • What do to with all those weeds? When I weed, I simply toss the weeds into the path running down the length of my garden—a few hours of sunlight will do them in completely. After a day or two of hot sun, I shake the weeds out to get all the rest of the soil clinging to their roots back into my garden, then bag them and throw them away. You don't want to compost them—their seeds will just wind up back in your garden, ready to sprout anew.

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Weeds gone; beets found!

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Weeds gone; carrots found!

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The aftermath: huge pile of vanquished weeds.

Tomato Surprise!

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A sprouted-from-compost tomato seedling in the garden.

One fun thing I've discovered in the last week of weeding is that there are hardy little tomato seedlings popping up all over the garden—they've sprouted from seeds that were in my compost. Tomatoes are definitely my favorite edible crop that I grow, so I always leave them be—I'm not totally sure I'll have room for then once they grow large, but for now, they're staying (I've also found about a million summer and winter squash seedlings, also sprouted from compost, but I definitely don't have room for them).

What are Your Best Weeding Tips?

Share them in the comments below!

About the author: Lauren Rothman is a former Serious Eats intern, a freelance catering chef, and an obsessive chronicler of all things culinary. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and follow her on Twitter @Lochina186.

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