Sunday, August 21, 2011

Garden "weeding": preparation for fall planting

The culprit: a Wilcox's penstemon too close to a path. A good plant in a bad place.
 A question I get asked a lot is how much time I spend weeding the garden.  This is a really interesting question and it brings up all sorts of issues from "what is a weed", to people's notion of what maintaining their landscape or yard means.  Unfortunately, to many homeowners, maintaining their yard is a chore that only involves mowing, watering and weeding- most of which are detested by their owners.  So, when you see our garden, people notice that I don't mow, probably recognize that I don't water it, and so the only thing left for me to do must be to weed it. Weeding a lawn or garden is often the only way people interact with their landscape, and this saddens me a little, but it is a really interesting concept, too.

The time I spend maintaining our landscape is not work, or drudgery or something I dread.  Instead, in the native plant garden, it is an activity I love.  I look forward to it.  It is a way of exploring, discovering, and working on the aesthetic.  Seldom do I mow or "weed".  Well, I do weed the garden a lot, but weeding is probably a different activity than people think.  A "weed" is simply an unwanted plant (click here for more information).  In our garden, most of the weeding I do is to remove native plants that are coming up in the "wrong" place. Typically it s usually a tall plant that ends up coming up in a place I want a short one, like next to a path.  Or plants that sprout where I just don't want them.

 It is actually rare that we have non-native garden weeds.  This is surprising to many and it is probably the result of our site preparation, the fact that we don't water, and by removing all of our lawn, we have limited the source of non-native weeds.  What we are left with though is a strong source of native plants.

My typical strategy is to dig up the young plants, pot them up and put them in our "nursery" for a couple of weeks.  There I baby them- water them daily and take good care of them (both of which don't happen in the landscape!).  After a couple of weeks, I'll plant them out in the garden in their new location.  I try to do this when the weather is favorable and if possible, try to time it around some rain.  Usually this is the main activity of mine in the spring, but fall is another great time to plant, and in preparation for September, I am digging stuff up and putting it in the nursery now.
Our nursery full of weeds.
It is not much to look at now, but in a few weeks they will be looking good and ready to get out in the garden.  Lots of new, free, desirable plants, no longer "weeds".


  1. What a sad little picture! But I get what you're up to. :)

  2. I spend way more time weeding than I would like. This year, I've decided to do more planting. That way there's less space for something I don't want to land and take over. I'm also going to try and fertilize our lawn this fall in hopes of chocking out those darn thistles. Trying to get offensive so to speak. It's become exhausting and sad to constantly be on the defensive pulling stuff.

  3. I love that you defined weeding as interacting with the landscape! I spend a lot of time on taking out what doesn't belong to restore my meadow and in the process learn so much about the ecosystem. It isn't a chore, but a research project. In my garden, the plants in the wrong place are opportunistic foreigners, but when they are ousted the natives thrive. What a reward.

  4. I get some invaluable tips from you reading your blog. You really have the passion for gardening. Awesome.