Weed Now, Drink Beer Later

Picture of some common spring weeds
Common Colorado weeds (clockwise from upper left): thistle, mallow, dandelion, bind weed
Everyone’s heard the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But I prefer my own slight variant when it comes to spring gardening: “Weed a little in March, sit back and drink beer in July.” That’s right. When many folks are out in the blazing sun pulling deep-rooted perennial weeds this coming July, I’ll be drinking a beer on the patio.

That’s because, starting right about now, I go out once a week and pull every single weed in my yard. Right now, the weeds are small and the ground is soft. There also aren’t that many weeds right now, so you can achieve a sense of accomplishment with just a half an hour here and there. Just because I said it was easy to pull weeds right now doesn’t mean it’s not important. Pulling weeds right now, before they can reseed, grow a massive root system, or spread, is just about the most important thing you can do in the spring garden.

Weeds compete with your ornamental and food plants for sunlight, soil nutrients, and water, and can also provide shelter for diseases, insects, and animals that damage garden plants. While planting fast-growing, drought tolerant plants or densely-planted garden beds that can shade out weeds, and mulching mid-spring after pulling as many weeds as you can provides an excellent defense against weed infestation, the truth is that most of us have weeds in our yard despite our best efforts.

Getting to know your weeds is an important first step to controlling them. Some weeds respond well hoeing, but some of the most difficult weeds simply regenerate from their long tap root if you remove their greenery at soil level. Ever spent an afternoon carefully digging up bind weed roots only to have the weed regrow from the tiny fragment of root left behind? Ever hoed a thistle plant off at the surface 800 times in a season only to have a forest regrow the next year? Then you know what I’m talking about.

A few of the more common weeds seen in the spring garden in Colorado include:

  • Thistle, a prickly perennial weed, can regrow from a tiny root fragment.
  • Mallow, which looks like a wild geranium, grows both as an annual and biennial and has a long, tough tap root that will regrow unless you are diligent about digging the entire root out. A long pronged weed digger is probably the best tool to use to eradicate both thistle and mallow.
  • Dandelion is probably the best known and least problematic of these weeds. Characterized by the familiar yellow flowers and a deep tap root, this perennial weed can be controlled fairly easily with pulling as long as you do it before the pretty white seed heads have dispersed all over the yard.
  • Bindweed, a perennial vine that has small morning glory-like flowers, plagues most Colorado gardens. Pulling this weed is largely ineffective because any tiny fragment of its deep root system will reroot. Scraping the plant off at soil level with a hoe will, over time, weaken the plant and starve the roots. But if you’ve got a well-established patch, expect it to take several seasons to get the stuff under control.

This weekend, I pulled about 50 weeds out of the garden, which was about 10 times as many as I had the weekend previous, so things are definitely starting to grow as the weather warms. I pulled a mix of dandelion, salsify, thistle, annual weedy grasses, and a few things that I had planted that were reseeding where I didn’t want them to (chamomile & peas, actually!). Next weekend, I’ll probably be up to closer to a full bucket of weeds, but by our big planting weekend (usually mid-May), I’ll be able to focus on planting instead of worrying about pulling weeds. And by the hottest days of the year, I promise you I’ll be drinking beer instead of pulling weeds. You should try it…

2 thoughts on “Weed Now, Drink Beer Later

  1. Thistles are a real problem here and will colonize any bare patches of ground that are there. Cosmos will help to starve out the thistle, but they themselves can become weedy because they reseed so much.

    I know time is an issue, but thistles first emerge around now and you can probably get after them with a 2-pronged digger now so that you won’t have as many this summer. Basically, as the roots left from last year’s thistles put up new growth, stick the digger down as far as you can right next to the leaves and pry it up–expect some of the roots to be 6 inches deep or more. If you’re diligent about pulling them now, and then cut off any flowering stems from the ones you miss later, you’ll be on your way to controlling next year’s crop.

    If you do need to resort to chemicals, Roundup is probably the way to go (although we were able to get rid of our thistles at the old house without Roundup/Monsanto!!). Wait until a cool (less than 75 degrees) day when it’s not windy and the plants are growing vigorously so that they’ll pull as much poison as possible into the roots.

    Good luck! Matt’s allergic to thistles, so I hate, hate, hate them!!

  2. Last summer I had awful thistles- taller than the fence. I couldn’t keep up with them, and just pulled all the dead ones out over the weekend. There are a few traces of them left here and there. How do I keep them from getting so bad again this year? I don’t really want to use Roundup, and don’t have a ton of time to keep pulling them up. I’m thinking of just planting some Cosmos in the dirt patch there, and won’t be planting a garden. Any good suggestions? Thanks! Enjoy the beer in July. 🙂

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