The Plant Man column
for publication week of 04/10/05 - 04/16/05
The Plant Man
by Steve Jones
Attack weeds early... and replace with elegant backdrops
Weeds! If you already see them poking their nasty little heads above
the surface of your flowerbeds, now is the time for action, if you'd
prefer NOT to break your back (and do a lot of cursing) throughout the
spring and summer!
Today, I'll have some tips to ease the landscaper's least-favorite
chore... and a suggestion about adding a whole new texture that will
also help to control weeds.
If you think of your landscape as a battleground with the weeds as the
enemy, here's the most important strategy you can employ: Attack
At the start of the season, weeds are at their most vulnerable. Attack
now and you can prevent annual weeds from forming seed heads and you
can stop those perennial weeds from developing strong, deep roots.
Still not convinced? Consider this. One crab grass plant can produce
up to 100,000 seeds, each with the potential to become another crab
When it comes to weeding, you don't need a lot of fancy equipment.
You'll want to have a pair of gardening gloves to protect your hands
from thistles and sharp stones. An old table fork (not grandma's
prized silver) is really useful, and it's always good to have a trowel
handy. You might want to invest a few dollars in a small hand tool
called a fishtail weeder, also known as a dandelion weeder. The only
large tool you'll usually need for weeding is a hoe, preferably a
Annuals, such as crabgrass, pigweed and foxtail, complete their life
cycle within one year, as you've probably deduced. With annuals, your
best bet is simply to cut off their heads, just below soil level,
before they have a chance to grow.
For an un-mulched area of soil, such as a flower bed, I find the
easiest way to do this is with a scuffle hoe. Pull and push the hoe
across the DRY soil, so the head of the hoe is raking about a half
inch to an inch below the surface. A useful tip: sharpen the tip with
a file at the start of each season and your hoe will move through the
soil more easily and decapitate more weeds.
Perennials, such as dandelions, quack grass and thistles, need a more
individual approach. Remove the weeds by hand as early in the season
as possible to prevent them establishing too deep a root base.
You'll find it easier to uproot perennial weeds when the soil is wet,
following a rain shower or a good soaking from your garden hose. If
you find the roots are breaking off and remaining in the soil when you
pull them by hand, use a trowel or a dandelion weeder. For really
deep-rooted weeds, you might have to dig them out.
As you know, I'm something of a crusader for healthy, robust soil as
it promotes better growth of the plants you do want and fewer of those
you don't want: weeds. You can find more information at my Web site
and I'm happy to send you information via e-mail if you write to me at
So... you've rooted out the weeds from your flower beds and you want
to add something that will enhance the beauty of your flowers. Here's
an idea you might not have thought of: ornamental grasses.
Clumps of ornamental grasses are ideal for mixing in with
spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils. Taller grasses form an
eye-pleasing "curtain" behind perennials in a flower bed that backs up
to an ugly fence or the side of a garage.
Lower-growing grasses can be integrated with your perennials. As an
example, Elijah blue fescue looks spectacular in the spring
surrounding dianthus (also known as pinks) because their colors just
seem to "zing" together.
Next time in this column, I'll give you specific descriptions of some
of my favorite ornamental grasses and how you can use them to enhance
the look of your existing landscape, or to establish a new landscape
in a short period of time. If you can't wait and you want some
personal advice about choosing ornamental grasses (or anything else
for that matter) send me an e-mail with a few details and I'll give
you some ideas.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and
additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed
newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org