Back to the rows: A greening yard and garden calls for elbow grease


File photo. File photo.

Rain and warm weather have caused a verdant explosion in recent weeks, a welcome change from the long winter and slow spring. With this greening comes the inevitable growth of opportunistic plants—some call them weeds—that may sprout in places we’d rather they didn’t.

It’s tempting to pick up a container of RoundUp and spray. Don’t. The ingredients in RoundUp—both active and inert—have been implicated in abnormal fetal development (including low birth weight and miscarriage), increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and increased incidence of breast cancer. And while it might not seem like a big deal to knock out the poison ivy in your hedge, or the black walnut saplings in your perennial beds, remember that you’re not the only one using RoundUp. Your neighbor sprays the weeds on his patio, municipalities and businesses use it to maintain flawless landscapes (at schools and in public parks, no less), and of course, many farmers use it regularly on their crops (just one more reason to avoid genetically modified foods; they have been engineered to withstand enormous quantities of herbicides like RoundUp). It adds up.

So what’s the best way to eliminate invasive and vexing weeds from your garden, your yard, your patio? First, ask yourself, does the weed need to be removed? I have a lawn that is almost entirely “weeds;” it is thick, lush, and a pleasure to walk on. Perhaps the weeds can stay? A little elbow grease is sometimes all that’s needed, even for the most unwelcome plants.

Having the proper tools helps as well. A spading fork is easy to use and works perfectly to dig up deeply rooted plants, and various specialized tools exist to remove specific weeds. Sometimes spraying is the best option, particularly for masses of small weeds, or weeds growing in patios or walkways. Luckily, the most innocuous and inexpensive “herbicides” may already reside in your kitchen. Try spraying weeds with a diluted salt water or vinegar solution. Finally, if all else fails there is such a thing as an organic herbicide (though make sure it contains the Organic Materials Review Institute seal on the label). I’m partial to a product called “Burn-Out” which uses clove oil as a defoliant for poison ivy (it has the added bonus of smelling like Christmas).

As for the plants we do want growing in our gardens, we’re past the point of the last frost, so feel free to get planting, if you haven’t already.

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant: Plant seedlings deeply, covering the first set of leaves. On tomatoes, begin removing the suckers that grow between the main stem and leaves, as well as any early blooming flowers.

Garlic: If you planted hardneck garlic last fall be on the lookout for the curly flower stalk and bud—called scapes—and remove. These are excellent sautéed in olive oil, salt and pepper!

Beans, cucumbers, summer squash: Sow plants in successions every two weeks or so to ensure a long harvest. Thin beans to one plant every six inches or so.

Greens: Continue sowing heat tolerant lettuces, but hold off on the arugula—the heat makes it hot and spicy and it bolts quickly. 

Guinevere Higgins is owner of Blue Ridge Backyard Harvest, which provides consultation, design, and installations for home-scale edible gardens. When she’s not gardening, she works in fundraising for the Center for a New American Dream.


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