Getting Rid Of Weeds

In spring, gardens burst into life. Weeds do too, but rather than waging an all-out war, we can be more effective when we understand the roles they play in our ecosystem.

Understanding Weeds

A weed is any unwanted plant that grows in our gardens. Weeds can belong to any branch of the plant family, whether grasses or trees, annuals or perennials. They range from native species to invasive plants to intentionally planted flowers and vegetables that got out of hand. The same plant can be desirable in one location and a “weed” in another. Anyone who’s planted mint or bamboo without using a container will experience the phenomenon of a classic garden plant spreading to become what could well be considered a weed.

Weeds vary by geographic location, and include dandelions which can be found just about everywhere. What they share is their incredible resilience. They often spread by several means: seeds, roots and runners. They’re survivors.

Although most gardeners consider weeds to be unsightly, these scrappy plants can have beneficial properties. Many weeds, like the dandelions, are edible. Be sure to correctly identify weeds before eating them; understand safe preparation, including which parts of the plant are edible; and confirm that they grew in uncontaminated soil free from herbicides, pesticides and heavy metals.

Some weeds can also provide important food sources to garden pollinators. Clover is a favorite nectar source of bees. Bronze fennel and Queen Anne’s lace attract predatory wasps and flies, as well as ladybugs, which prey on garden pests such as aphids.

What Weeds Tell You

Strange as it may seem, weeds can improve soil health or indicate a soil problem that needs to be corrected. Folklore provides some interesting information about what weeds have to say about our soil.

Weeds in the legume family, such as vetch and clover, are “nitrogen fixers.” They form helpful relationships with soil bacteria that make nitrogen, one of the most important plant nutrients available in the soil. Folklore has it that if you see a lot of leguminous weeds, it means that you have nitrogen-poor soil where other plants won’t thrive. Over time, the nitrogen-fixing properties of these plants can help to improve soil quality. In fact, clover and vetch are often grown as “cover crops” to improve soil.

Weeds with deep taproots, like dandelions, are often found in compacted soil — think of the cracks between sidewalk pavers. These weeds can indicate soil that’s in need of aeration. Similarly, creeping buttercups often thrive in heavy soil that lacks organic matter.

These “indicator” species can tell us a lot about the health of our soil. If you have a persistent weed problem, identify the species and do some research. You might be surprised by how much you learn.

Preventing And Removing Weeds

While weeds can teach us a lot about the health of our gardens, we still need to keep them in check — especially in vegetable gardens, where tender crops can easily be crowded out by fast-growing weeds. While it’s impossible to prevent all weeds, you can use a few simple strategies to keep them to a reasonable amount without breaking your back or using toxic chemicals.

Build rich soil. Many weeds thrive in poor, compacted or disturbed soil, and enriching your soil can do wonders to reduce weeds. For vegetable gardens, constructing raised beds at least 12 inches tall and filling them with high-quality, weed-free garden soil is one of the quickest ways to prevent the vast majority of weeds. When building a new raised bed, line the bottom of your planting area with a couple of layers of corrugated cardboard, flattened boxes work well, before adding the soil. This layer will help to smother all but the most intrepid weeds. Bonus: The fluffy, highly aerated soil in raised beds makes it easier to remove weeds when they do sprout.

Once your soil is in place, take care not to disturb it too much. Tilling or turning soil over can expose buried weed seeds. When adding compost, rake it into the surface of your bed rather than digging it under. The exception is when adding composted manure which should be dug under in vegetable beds.

Weed weekly. The smaller the weed, the easier it is to get rid of. The key is to do some regular maintenance and remove weeds while they’re still small. If you’re growing vegetables in raised beds, weed seedlings can usually be plucked out with gloved fingers. Doing so is much easier than the strenuous work of digging out full-size dandelions. Furthermore, removing weeds while they’re young will help to prevent them from going to seed and spreading further.

Comb your garden for weeds once per week. Keep a bucket at hand while you work to make cleanup easy. You won’t get every single weed — don’t even try — but do your best to remove the bulk of them. To save your back, kneel or squat beside your beds rather than bending at the waist. Knee pads or a stool can be helpful for this purpose.

Get the roots. Be sure to remove the whole plant, especially if you’re removing full-size weeds. This is easier said than done, but it’s important because sneaky weeds can multiply from the broken ends of roots. When removing taproot weeds like dandelions and comfrey, which produce long central roots, be sure to dig deeply using a weeding tool or shovel. For weeds with fibrous roots, like buttercups, dig widely around the whole plant.


Don’t give them space. As the saying goes, nature hates a vacuum. Rather than leaving bare patches of soil, use vegetable garden-friendly organic mulches such as straw or leaves. In addition to keeping weeds at bay, mulch is a great way to conserve water by reducing evaporation.

Try solarizing or smothering weeds. If weeds are a serious problem in your garden, you may need to resort to more drastic measures. Consider solarizing or smothering your soil, techniques that starve weeds of oxygen over a period of several weeks. Doing this will put your beds out of commission for several weeks, but it’s well worth it if you have a persistent weed problem that makes gardening difficult.

Disposing of Weeds

What do you do with the weeds you’ve pulled up? Experienced composters, who know that their compost piles reach temperatures high enough to kill weed seeds and roots, can add weeds to their compost piles. However, for many home gardeners, composting weeds can potentially propagate the problem by spreading weed seeds when the compost is reintroduced to the garden.

Instead, consider including weeds in “compost tea.” There are two main approaches to making compost tea: nonaerated and aerated. Nonaerated tea is made by simply filling a clean garbage can with your tea-making materials of choice and covering them with water, usually for several weeks. The resulting liquid will provide a useful — though quite smelly —fertilizer for your garden. Aerated compost tea involves the use of an aquarium aerator or frequent stirring and produces a less smelly result, in less time.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a convenient option, many cities provide regular curbside pickup of garden waste, including weeds. In most cases, this garden waste is composted at temperatures high enough to kill weeds and sold back to the community or used in public projects.

Weeds aren’t evil, even if they seem that way. Take a moment to admire the resilience of these tough plants and learn what they might have to teach you. By building good soil and removing weeds regularly, you can keep weeds to a minimum.


Saving Money On Landscaping Renovation

As with any large-scale renovation, the costs of a landscape remodel can quickly add up. With the right design moves and decisions to stretch your budget, you can pull off the look and feel of your dream garden without letting the budget get out of hand. But where it can make sense to save — without compromising quality or style — may not always be where you’d expect.

Here are some of the best places to save money on a landscape redesign.

Simplify Your Wish List

It’s easy to get carried away when it comes to creating your dream landscape wish list, with elements from patios to outdoor kitchens and pools to fire pits, but costs quickly add up. Focus on the elements you really want and will use often. To save money, scale things back or take out a few features that you could add over time.

Tip: Having a professionally drawn site plan in place will help ensure that you won’t have to disturb an improved area when installing new features at a later stage.

Choose Hardworking, Less Expensive Materials

Hardscape — hard surfaces such as pathways, pavers and patios — is often one of the biggest “budget eaters” in a landscape remodel, as the materials and installation can both be expensive. If you’re looking for ways to help rein in your budget, resilient but less expensive hardscape materials can fill in, either temporarily or permanently.

For example use a mix of gravel and pavers instead of cut stone for a front patio and walkway as a cost-saving measure. Gravel can be an excellent permanent low-cost alternative to cut stone. Use a mix of gravel and concrete or precast pavers to create pads for furniture. Regardless of the material you choose, it pays off to invest in proper professional installation.

Tip: If you need to be able to roll a wheelchair, walker or stroller over your main path, consider gravel as a cost-saving material for secondary paths or patios instead.

Use What You Already Have

While it’s tempting to want to rip out everything and start with a clean slate, it’s better to pause and take stock of what you have. Repurposing existing plants and materials — especially long-lasting, high-quality ones — can help save your budget and enhance your design.

Use existing pavers, relocating established plants or painting a dated item is worth the investment for a relatively low cost.

Select Local and Salvaged Materials

If you don’t have existing elements that can be repurposed, chances are someone in your community might. Check with local salvage yards and material warehouses. You may be able to score a pallet of bricks for a patio or redwood boards for a fence at a fraction of the price of purchasing them new.

If you’re purchasing new materials such as gravel, wood or cut stone, ask which ones come from your local region. They can often be more affordable than materials that have been transported from elsewhere, and can help your new garden fit in with the natural tones of the area. Ask the landscape designer or architect you’re working with if local materials could be prioritized.

Buy Plants Small

Sizing down plants to help with your budget. Plants can easily be purchased in smaller sizes, and they will grow to size over time. It’s smarter to invest in permanent elements like hardscape.

Even planted from small containers, many herbs, perennials, ground covers, ornamental grasses and vines will fill in quickly. Some shrubs, trees, cactuses and succulents can be slower to reach maturity, depending on the species. A few exceptions for which it can be worth the splurge on larger plants: one or two mature trees for dramatic impact and shrubs needed for screening.

Choose Perennials Over Annuals

If you’re looking for color in planting beds, perennials — plants that come back year after year — are a much better investment than annuals that need to be bought and replanted each season. Nurseries will often have end-of-season sales well-stocked with perennials in fall, which is a perfect time to plant.

Tip: Another way to score plants for less is at a plant swap. Communities will sometimes host plant swaps, generally in spring and summer, where you can bring plants of your own or cash to trade for or buy other potted plants.

Professionals can help you save money on plants: The retail nursery cost of a plant can often be one-third to double the cost of a plant purchased by a landscaper at a wholesale growing ground. This can also be true for soil amendments, fertilizers, gravel and mulch.

Depending on your plant knowledge, a professional may have a better understanding of plant spacing and depth, resulting in a better overall planting job.

Use High-Impact, Low-Cost Garden Accents

For permanent and high-use elements, it makes sense to choose the highest-quality materials and craftsmanship you can afford. For smaller decorative accents, this isn’t always the case.

Cute little garden details, like the obelisks, can make a big impact. Other low-investment, high-payoff exterior accents to try: chic house numbers or a standout mailbox.

Buy Containers at End-of-Season Sales

Picking up containers for potted plants at fall nursery sales, is something to look for. Stores will often cut prices by 50 percent or more to clear inventory at the end of the growing season. Stock up on large pots and planters for spring planting.

Design With Maintenance Costs in Mind

Once hardscape is installed and plants are in the ground, your costs going forward will be associated with maintenance. Some hardscape materials require more maintenance than others to continue to look good over time. Plants all require different levels of water and maintenance throughout the year to continue to thrive. It’s best to consider this now, when you’re just beginning your project, to design your plan accordingly.

In general, high-quality natural materials such as cut stone and flagstone for patios and walkways require minimal care when properly installed. Gravel and decomposed granite, on the other hand, need to be topped up every so often. Synthetic decking can save the cost of needing to seal a natural wood deck every few years.

For plants, your best bet for cutting down on water costs is to use native plants or those that grow well in your climate. Gardens composed of easy-care shrubs, ground covers and perennials require less care than those designed with high-maintenance annual flower beds or clipped topiary. Choose a style you have the time and budget to care for going forward. Skipping a traditional lawn can also offer major savings in terms of both water and maintenance.

Consider Phasing Your Project

For major landscape overhauls, installing the design in several phases can help in terms of budgeting. For phased projects, bring in a professional at the beginning to draw a complete site plan that will outline the overall design and how phases should be divided according to construction access. Think through everything that one might want to bury in the ground that will be useful or desired in the future. It is no fun to dig trenches or drill holes in finished surfaces.

Having a complete site plan guiding the construction process is likely to bring costs down and prevent work being done twice. For example, with proper planning between phases, a contractor could lay a foundation beneath a patio for a shade structure intended for later installation. 


Drought Sensitive Gardening

For gardeners, drought or near-drought conditions are a special challenge. What can you do when starting a new garden during a drought? How can you add plantings while saving water. Even better, no matter what the weather conditions, these ideas will ensure that your garden stays healthy for years to come.

Although some times of year might be better for planting, the time to start a garden is when you’re ready. The decision to forgo water-intensive features and thirsty planting will have a much greater long-term impact.

If you do wait until later in the year to remodel an existing garden, consider keeping what you have in place rather than tearing it out. This will help keep the ground covered, keep the dust down and keep the area more weed-free when you are able to seed or plant new plants.

Start With Your Soil

Try to create soil that’s as healthy as possible for your plants. The first step is understanding your native soil and what it needs. Your soil is a living thing, and it needs updating and ongoing care. Choosing organic fertilizers and using compost and compost teas will help keep your soil active with microbes.

Organic soil amendments also will improve soil conditions, but whether to use them or not will depend on the plants you’re adding. While some plants might welcome the boost, amendments might not work as well for others.

Lengthen Your Planting Schedule

Install your garden in stages over a couple of seasons or even years. Focus first on your top ornamental priorities for foundation plants, perennials and shrubs and trees. Choose what you feel is necessary to add now and what can wait until later in the year or even a year or two down the road.

In areas with warm-winter climates that get little to no summer rain, hold off planting trees until later in the year. Gardeners can also plant trees in late winter or early spring.


Choose The Right Plants

Native plants should be your first choice. These plants already are adapted to the local conditions, are usually very hardy and are able to handle local climate conditions, including a lack of summer rain. An added benefit is that they attract local wildlife. So many birds and butterflies are attracted to native-plant gardens.

Natives can be hard to find and are often in very small sizes. The smaller plants will take more time to grow to their final size, but their small size can be an advantage. A large native can have a hard time adjusting.

Also look for drought-tolerant plants that are well-adapted to your climate. They’ll often be marked as low-water-use plants, but check before you purchase. Some plants that look drought-tolerant may have higher water needs.

If you want to add a vegetable garden, consider varieties that don’t require as much water, such as herbs and vegetables that thrive in Mediterranean climates. Also prioritize bushy, lower-growing vegetables, such as bush beans and varieties that have been bred for lower-water use.

Plant Strategically

Group plants that share water requirements, an approach often called hydrozoning. Separate shade plants from sun plants; and higher-water plants, such as vegetable gardens, from lower-water plants.

Take the same approach with a vegetable garden. You also can plant vegetables closer together than typically recommended so they can share water and crowd out weeds.

Find A Lawn Substitute

One of the most water-saving things you can do in your yard is not add a lawn. Most lawns are true water guzzlers. It also makes sense to put limited water resources toward plants like existing trees and large shrubs, which are hard to replace.

For a lawn substitute, seed with a native grass blend. The grass can be mowed or not mowed, depending on the look desired. 

Fine-Tune Your Watering

Take the time to create a watering system that will deliver the most water to your plants and won’t be lost to evaporation, hard surfaces or unplanted areas. Drip irrigation systems are the best choice for most plants. These systems concentrate water at the roots of the plantings, so you’ll need to water less. Watering basins and mounds also direct water to the roots.

Very often, gardens are overwatered. Rather than just checking the soil’s surface, dig down and see if the soil is dry 2 to 3 inches beneath the surface before watering, especially if you have clay soil. If it’s not dry there, the water will just run off rather than sinking in.

Mornings and evenings are the best times to water plants, as less water is lost to evaporation. Also watch the weather conditions and shut down an automated watering system if rain is likely.

Mulch Generously and Weed Often

Adding a thick layer of organic mulch around your plants will help the soil retain moisture and help suppress weeds. Mulching is key. Do not remove all the fallen leaves, they help condition the soil. Replenish your mulch throughout the growing season to keep it fresh.

Don’t use gravel as a mulch, as it absorbs too much heat. The goal is to keep things cool. Plants low-water ground covers; they keep the soil cooler, provide organic matter for the surrounding soil, and also help suppress weeds.

Even with mulch, you’ll need to be diligent about weeding. One approach: Stroll through your garden with a digger and a bucket every day or so to pull out weeds when you see them, rather than waiting to do a marathon session. The bonus is that you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your garden.

Capture Water

Find ways to reuse water from both your yard and your home. Rain barrels are a classic approach to gathering water, so install one or more under downspouts. They’re readily available, and many are quite attractive.

Tip: Before you purchase or install a rain barrel, be sure to check local bylaws. 

A more advanced approach is to create swales, streambeds and rain gardens. These take some time to set up but can help you capture and use more water. They also will direct rainfall into your soil rather than out to the street, helping the underground water table. A variation on this is underground cache areas, which some municipalities in drought-prone areas are requiring for landscape projects.

If you want to step up your use of captured water, check locally for sources that provide recycled water for your garden. These businesses are becoming more common in dry-summer locations.


Declutter In 30 Minutes Or Less

Don’t stress about the mess — just take it one step at a time

Facing a cluttered space can feel disheartening — who has the time or the desire to spend all day clearing clutter? But the thing is, making progress toward a clean, clutter-free space doesn’t have to be something you devote an entire day to. Instead, by carving out bite-size chunks of time to work on clearly defined tasks, you can get the serene space you deserve in a way that also works with your schedule. Here are some quick ways to get started.

Edit One Bookcase

If you have a large book collection spread throughout the house, sorting through all those books at once may not be practical. So start with something more doable instead — like one bookcase. Keep an empty box or shopping bag by your side, and fill it with books you no longer want or need. When you’re done, immediately carry the bag(s) to your car and make a plan to drop them off to donate or sell. Here are a few things to consider as you edit:

  • Have you read the book? If not, are you really going to read it, or are you keeping it out of guilt?
  • Did you enjoy the book? If not pass it on.
  •  Will you reread it, refer to it or lend it out? If you’re not likely to ever read it up again, let it go.

Clear The Kitchen Counter

The kitchen counter is such a common dumping ground for all sorts of stuff: school notices, rubber bands, shopping bags, receipts, to-do lists etc. Set your timer and get to work — recycle unneeded papers and put away items that belong elsewhere. If you need a drop-spot on the counter, make it a clearly defined zone to prevent clutter sprawl in the future: Try a bowl for pocket change and a tray or basket for mail.

Make Space Under The Kitchen Sink

When was the last time you really looked under your kitchen sink? This area tends to become a storehouse for random cleaning products, plastic bags and jumbled tools. First, pull everything out and give the cupboard itself a cleaning. Next, replace only the items that you actually use, that are full and in good condition. Recycle empty containers, bring bags to a plastic bag recycling drop-off and move less-often used tools elsewhere.

Make Your Bedside Table An Oasis

Why make a cluttered nightstand the last thing you see before bed and the first thing you lay eyes on in the morning? Clear away the toppling piles of books, scribbled notes and old water glasses, and wipe away the coffee rings — it’s time for a fresh start. Replace only your current reading, a journal and pen, and perhaps a candle or a small vase with flowers.

Winnow Your Wardrobe, One Drawer At A Time

Rather than attempting to tackle your entire closet in one go, set your timer for 30 minutes and start with a single drawer. Keep working your way through your clothes, one drawer at a time, until the timer goes off. Keep two empty bags or bins by your side as you sort, placing quality clothes in good repair in one bag to sell or donate, and worn-out clothes in the other bag and drop these in a textile recycling bin.

Simplify The Linen Closet

Do you know how many sets of sheets and towels you own? If you’ve been accumulating linens for years without purging the old ones, chances are your linen closet is full — or overstuffed. Take this 30-minute session to sort out your household linens, pulling your least favorite or most frayed sets to bring to a textile recycling bin or a charitable donation center. If you hope to donate your old linens, be sure to check with the donation center first, because guidelines on acceptable donations can vary widely. For instance, some may accept tea towels but not bath towels.

Organize Art Supplies

Whether you have kids at home or are an artist yourself, the art supply cupboard is bound to get messy. Toss out or recycle empty containers and dried-up markers. Neaten up what’s left, and if the cupboard still feels too packed, consider offloading a bag full of art supplies to donate to a local school or a family shelter.

Sort Out The Toy Chest

Half an hour isn’t nearly enough time to go through a child’s entire room, but it should be adequate for clearing out one particularly messy toy chest or bin. First, remove all the toys to an area where you have some room to spread out. Put toys that obviously belong elsewhere back in the right spot  and toss or set aside broken items for repair. Fill a bag with unloved toys and put this immediately in the car — otherwise, the toys are likely to migrate out of the give-away-or-sell bag and back into the toy chest!

Remove Worn And Outgrown Clothes

Working through one drawer, shelf or hanging rack at a time, pull out any of your child’s clothes that are too small, or too damaged, to wear. If you plan to save items for a younger child, neatly fold them and place in a bin labeled with the size in a storage closet. Place any clothing that is too worn or damaged to keep or sell in a bag destined for your closest textile recycling bin.

Clear Your Desktop

The next time you find yourself procrastinating instead of getting your work done, step away from aimless social media scrolling, and set the timer for a desk-centered clutter-blasting session instead. Sort and file important papers, shred and recycle unneeded documents, test the pens in your pen cup, and clear out the drawers. There, doesn’t that feel better?

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