Tips for the desperate gardener

IMG_0711What an embarrassment. My perennial garden, a source of pride in past years, is a weedy mess.

While we were running around during a busy spring, and huddling inside during uncooperative, rainy weather, the weeds moved in and took over.

Then, feeling neglected, many of my perennials decided to migrate to different locations, infringe on their neighbors, or waste away to nothing. It’s as if Mother Nature’s testing my resolve.

Well, I don’t have much, but even I’ve reached my limits. The weekend found me up to my waist in tick-infested, overgrown foliage, yanking out handfuls of invaders.

Before I had my kids, the garden was a refuge. I’d head home after a long day at the office, don my grubbies, and dig around in the dirt in the long mid-summer evenings. Pulling weeds felt like an accomplishment. Dividing perennials like a fresh start. I enjoyed the physicality of it.

Fast forward a few years, and the garden took a hit. I no longer had the energy or the time to tend it. Ever try to weed with a fussy baby next to you in a playpen, or turn soil with a toddler eating deer poop off the lawn? I have.

Here are some tips when the state of your garden calls for triage:

Pay the neighbor kids to help. My kids are old enough to assist now, but they aren’t willing helpers. I have to bribe, pay, threaten or conscript them. However, my neighbor and I have discovered that our kids, who sometimes balk at doing even work they’re being paid for at home will often jump at a chance to do the exact, same work at someone else’s house. So we trade kids.

Pull the tallest weeds first. A method my oldest son caught on to right away because it fills up the bags faster. But it also makes the most immediate visual impact. You’ll actually feel like you got something done.

 Pull all the similar weeds first. This is a good method to use if you have new weeders who might accidentally remove the expensive day lily you drove miles and miles to obtain. Pull a sample weed. Hand it to them. Say, “Pull out everything that looks exactly like this.” Repeat at necessary intervals.

Utilize those garden tools. There is a reason they were developed. If your garden is really awful, like mine, turning over dirt might actually be faster than pulling each, individual weed. Plus, (if you’ll pardon the generalization) those boy children would rather use the tools anyway.

Assign tasks based on individual strengths. My oldest son is all about filling up the bags, but my youngest wants to find a tiny plot of soil and make it perfectly smooth and weed free. Assign the perfectionist to the paths and borders where neatness really counts. Otherwise, you’ll just be frustrated that in the time you’ve been clearing the back 40, this child has cleared only one, perfect square foot.

And my #1 tip…

Embrace native plants, a method I borrowed from another neighbor. I’ve ceded one whole section of a perennial bed to a large stand of milkweed. The butterflies like it, and it’s pretty enough, especially when it’s in bloom. And I’ve let some other wildflowers take root.

“What’s the difference between a weed and a wildflower?” my youngest asked.

“A weed is just a wildflower growing where you don’t want it,” I answered.

I almost believe that.

4 thoughts on “Tips for the desperate gardener

  1. I know your pain. When we bought this place three years ago, it came with no fewer than thirteen landscaped gardens, including four water features. Some of the gardens are quite large. It looked fun, then. By the time we get the weeds cleared out of one, twelve others have returned to nature. I’m going the bark and weed cloth route. I am almost finished with the third garden.

    On the topic of children and gardens, beware. Just about the time they really become useful in the garden, they have grown up and left. I figure that I have about four more years of help before the last one leaves the nest, so I choose my projects carefully. I thought once about forbidding her to leave home and go to college, but I gave that up because she remains our best hope of ever becoming grandparents. 😃


    1. Well, that sounds even more formidable than mine! Ironically, I had a landscape gardener help me redesign my largest garden area a few years ago with the goal of making it low maintenance. It didn’t work. There are days I just want to get a gallon of gasoline and a match and start over.


  2. I fall into the category of a desperate gardener, as in desperate for the weeds to chill the hell out! They are so determined to take over my gardens. So many of them and they’re so big! I now get the phrase: “growing like a weed”… Unstoppable force & speed.


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