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Adventures in Weeding

Weeding, I think, must be a little like hunting: you form a bond with your quarry, understanding its habits. Or like massage: you get a feel for what's below the surface; your hand learns to free the energy. A primitive, sensual experience, not done by thinking.

Some plants simply need a firm grasp of the crown, as close to the soil as you can get; if it has multiple stems, grabbing them all at once ... and then a determined pull, perhaps bracing with your legs on either side of the plant.

Others, you must loosen the soil to remove, or the crown will simply break off, leaving a healthy root system to regrow. Dandelions provide the infamous example, although theoretically it's possible to weaken the plant enough by repeated defoliation, that you deplete the carbohydrates in that deep taproot so it doesn't have the energy to put out more topgrowth.

Plants with a branching root system can sometimes be loosened by jiggling the crown as you pull very gently. I jiggle with a circular motion: it just feels like that's what the energy needs. Perhaps for the same reason acupuncturists twirl their needles to help them penetrate. Even with big plants, often you don't have to dig the whole thing, just put the shovel in and tilt it to loosen the roots' grip; then pull.

Plants that spread along horizontal roots can pose another challenge. Lamiastrum has relatively strong stolons; a whole stretch will pull out. But lily-of-the-valley break easily: you have to painstakingly follow each white horizontal runner along its path under the soil, lifting up gently with your trowel to remove it, foot by foot. Each fragment you leave will grow anew; at least they're a distinctive color, and easy to see. Bittersweet behaves similarly, sprouting up from orange roots that break unpredictably, even when fat — but it grows deeper than lily-of-the-valley. If the soil moves up but the plant recedes into it, not lifting, dig the shovel down more before tilting.

My favorite quarry are yellow woodsorrel, it pulls so quick and clean; and maples, whose roots are so shallow even a grown tree is easy to dig up. I'll never forget the excitement of the two boys, perhaps ten and eight, who came running to tell me they'd succeeded in removing a one-foot-diameter stump that had kept sprouting in my shrub border.

© Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 16 September 2005

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