Real Estate

Weeding out the bad

Pros and gardeners give tips on getting rid of the plants you don't want

Like decluttering the inside of your home, weeding your yard is the same sort of chore if you let the weeds creep up and up like the piles on your countertops.

What is the best way to get rid of weeds without getting rid of plants you want? How do you get motivated to get out and do this unpleasant chore?

Garden Coach Jack McKinnon, who writes columns for this newspaper, gives the following advice.

First of all, he calls the task "the Art of weeding," capitals his. He says it's important to be in a proper state of mind for weeding. In other words, like decluttering, you have to be in the right mood. If you are easily discouraged, you should probably do something else.

McKinnon says it's good to know a weed when you see one. The University of California Cooperative Extension has a great online weed identifier, noting that there are basically only three types of weeds: broadleaves, grasses and sedges.

From there, "good sharp tools and and ergonomic discipline" are the best tools for weeding,

McKinnon said. "I like a big sharp hoe with a long handle," he said. A lot of pros just sharpen a good round-nosed shovel, he said.

"I've seen crews of machete-wielding men clear whole hillsides of ivy in a day, (with one guy just sharpening all day). And I've seen beautiful gardens, cared for by silver haired grandmothers that did 10 minutes of weed pulling every day," he said.

Like McKinnon, Palo Alto Master Gardener Candace Simpson has her favorite weeding tools. Her champion is something called a hori hori knife, a Japanese tool with a sharp stainless steel blade (about 6 inches long) that is useful to cut weeds, roots and vegetables. Some call this the "Swiss Army Knife" of gardening.

Simpson also likes hoes, including one called a scuffle hoe, which she said is useful for scraping annual weeds coming up in patches. She also uses a small, triangular hand hoe to get weeds tucked in between desirable plants.

"I think the hardest thing about weeding is getting yourself to do it when the plants are small," she said. "It is both easier and more effective to do it as soon as they start sprouting."

Knowing which weeds are annuals is important, because all you have to do is prevent them from flowering or producing seed, she said. The Cooperative Extension and master gardener websites have photographic weed identifiers.

Pulling weeds out by the roots isn't necessary, Simpson said. At the same time, cutting or breaking a perennial weed off at soil level is not going to help for long either, she warned.

If you aren't that interested in getting too physical with weeds, Palo Alto resident Janet Penick said she found a tip on the Internet advising to use newspapers.

"I cover the weeds or plain dirt or grass with 6 to 8 sheets of newspaper overlapping liberally (6-8"). I cover the newspaper with wood chips or compost to keep it in place. Do not try this on a windy or even breezy day," she said. "I used this method to 'borrow' about a four-foot strip from the width of the back lawn in order to create a planting strip. I used this method to plant some tomato plants this year. After I put the tomato plants in, I covered weeds and all as close to the stems as possible.

"If you want to plant seedlings after you've put down the newspaper, just peel the newspaper back, dig a hole, plant and cover with the paper or additional paper as close as possible to the stem of the seedling. Water goes through the paper, which will eventually decompose."

Julie Harris of Menlo Park says that she often has a lot of weeds to get rid of by spring. She usually pulls them up when the ground is wet, but some come back.

"I was visiting my daughter and we were doing some weeding and I noticed that when she pulled a weed she put the trowel along side of the weed and essentially dug the root out at the same time she pulled the top part. I have been trying this method and I think perhaps that by just pulling the weed that I might not have been getting the whole root system out."

Useful Weed identifiers and click on Weed Gallery. This site also has a handy video on removing dandelions:

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