Weeding the Garden

By Roger Erpelding

Contributing Writer

Finally–a nice weekend to weed the garden. It all began late Saturday morning, after Beth and I weeded, mulched and watered our small plot in the Demonstration Garden in Urbandale. My first order of business was to weed the cold weather crops–lettuce, beets, kohlrabe, carrots and spinach. Since I’d plan to pick a bag of lettuce for my son Jack later in the day, I thought it important that I tackle this area first. I did so before lunch time. Referring to my Braille garden map to know what I planted where was a big help. The onions, on the very east end, had been weeded once earlier. The lettuce was easy to feel, but the beets and kohlrabe had a similar feel to them. Of course, any grass was obviously a weed. I have lots of night shade in this area as well. Their leaves have a rather pungent and unpleasant fragrance, so are easy to find and pull. After lunch, I made a second pass further west in the cold weather crops, weeding carrots, radishes and spinach. In an earlier post I described how I tell these plants from the weeds. I also noted that the vine crops I planted earlier in June were not up. This is not surprising, as it had not rained since I planted them. I was very careful to look for them among the spinach and radish plants, but not a trace of them so far. The first seed leaves are easy to find, and again they have a distinctive fragrance.

While I was at it, I thought the green beans needed a good weeding as well. They have thick stems and compound leaves. By and large the crop is looking good.

I love a good nap on a weekend afternoon. However, I had “garden weeding fever” so I pressed on. The potatoes were next. The other crops I mentioned earlier ran from north to south in the eastern portion of the garden. The potatoes were planted on the bottom of this U shaped garden plot, and run east to west. They are bordered on two sides by the garden chicken wire fence. They have thick square stems, and many of them are already a foot tall. Since I planted them on April 17, they got a good start on the weeds. Therefore, it was full speed ahead, as they are tall enough where they are already closing in on the spaces between rows. This will make them tough to weed next time, but it will also minimize the weed crop, as they will shade the rows and tend to crowd out anything that is growing in that space.

For a couple of years, I planted lady slippers, or balsam, along the south fence where the potatoes are now growing. This is a fine annual flower, but it self-sows rampantly. I had tomatoes in this space last year, and I felt sorry for them and left a few of them grow. My mistake. This year among the beans and potatoes I found hundreds of new balsam just breaking the ground; every one of them was pulled.

I was wrong about the spearmint. It is a “smart” weed, and it has indeed crossed the fence northward into the garden. But it is growing in a triangular area just east of the potatoes and in a little area near the fence just south of the beans. This little area is vacant, so may it grow with vigor this year. It is not tough to pull, and next spring, if I desire, I can transplant it over the fence to the south side.

Late Sunday morning was a weeding adventure into the west side of the garden. First was the tomato, pepper and eggplant patch. Since I planted these crops late, they were not hard to weed. The tomatoes are already pushing at the top of their cages, and this makes them easy to find. Again, if it wasn’t a tomato it had to go, except for one exception. I found two poppies growing near one of the tomatoes. I had obtained these seeds from my Mother, so for sentimental reasons, they get to stay. The tomatoes will shade them out–they will do poorly–but if I can harvest one seed pod from each plant, I can sow them along the fence later in the summer. The peppers and eggplant still had their labels near them that came with their pots from the garden center, so they were easy to find and weed as well.

The perennial garden to the west is in some ways the easiest, or perhaps the toughest area to weed. My first task was to cut off the sweet rocket plants. I did not want them to go to seed, and I can tell that there are several small plants for next year’s harvest; these plants are biennials. They went into a lawn bag, to be composted by the city later in the week.

Some of the perennials are tiny, and I am pleased that I Braille labeled them. Others remain in white tiles to protect them from the rabbits that invaded the garden before Beth and I enclosed it in the chicken wire fence.

In the south east corner of this area, I was pleased to find my Amsonia (Arkansasblue star) which I thought had not come back this year. It has soft foliage which is almost similar to white pine boughs. Just north of this is a delphinium.  It has leaves like a maple tree, plus several flower stalks that will be in bloom next spring. Just adjacent to this, and a bit to the west, is the pyrethrum, or painted daisy. It has fern-like leaves, with tall stems of pink daisy-like flowers. Beth is partial to any composite bloom, and she wants these in her flower beds as well. They are rabbit candy, and I warned her they would need loads of protection. Weeding along, my next established group of plants was a garden phlox piniculata, but I’ve forgotten its cultivar. Reaching northward to the fence, there is a small pine tree (blue spruce) that Beth planted long before this became garden space. However, just north of it is a hardy hibiscus Lady Baltimore cultivar. It is very late to come back, and the sprouts are just breaking the ground. I identify it by its old stalks which I only cut to within a foot of the ground.

From south to north again, this time further west, the second row is easier. It is mostly daylilies and they have really filled in. Their long leaves which have parallel veins makes them easy to spot. Also in this row is a gas plant, and it is now in full flower. Its leaves have a distinctive aroma which I thoroughly enjoy. I have forgotten its botanic name. On the north and south ends of this row are two contrasting coreopsis. The south one is tall and invasive. It has broken away from its white tile, and I’ve pulled the invaders out. On the north end are my favorite coreopsis–Jethro Tull.

The next two north-south rows are broken up by a down spout that enters the garden. So, I’ll call these areas the south west andnorth westquadrants. In the south west, a large viburnum bush shades this area. It presents us with fragrant flowers around May Day, so it must stay. Under the bush is a large area of woodland poppies. Due to the abundant spring rain and cool weather, it has really made itself at home in this area. Its cone-shaped seed pods make it distinctive. The brunnera “Jack Frost” cultivar also likes it here. It has almost dainty flower stalks, but its leaves are rough as sandpaper. Just to the east, where more sun prevails, my baptisia is thriving. It has short stems of flowers that are purple, and look like pea blossoms. If the flowers are fertilized, they will produce short fuzzy pods similar to soybeans.

The northwest area is somewhat shaded by the house as well. TheVirginia bluebells are fading fast, and in two weeks the foliage will be completely dead and gone. I have some Shasta daisies in this area, as they get enough sun to do well, as well as the rudbeckia or Black-Eyed Susans. Their leaves are short and upright, with the rudbeckia being rougher. A small clump of iris, a daylily and an oriental poppy complete the filling of this space. The poppy feels rough, and the iris have straight sword-like leaves. Even closer to the house is a clump of yellow wax bells which are marked and doing well; the botanic name I do not know. And along the north fence is my Mother’s Day, or fern leaf peony. It is inside a white tile for identification purposes.

Sprinkled through this entire perennial area are clumps of oriental lilies. Their tall habit, and their opposite parallel leaves make them easy to find. However, since this is an established bed, the perennials do not always stay where you put them, and although I describe “rows” oftentimes this is no longer the case. So, I get good at playing “twister.” The trade off is that the weeds are easy to find, and it is quite obvious which are weeds and which are plants. Years of experience, Braille labels, white tiles and a good Braille map will always be helpful, regardless of how long you’d had your perennial garden.

It was Sunday afternoon, it was warm, and it was nap time. But, as I told Beth, “the garden now has the once-over with my weeding.” The next task will be to mulch the areas between plants where ever this is possible.

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