The Pleasures of Pulling Weeds

Jun 24, 2018 | Gardens

All my GardenLine and Plantrama listeners would love an easy way to rid their gardens of weeds. And frankly, if there were a product, tool or magic potion that made weeds quickly disappear from my gardens you can be sure that I’d be using it too. Lacking such instant solutions, however, I once again appreciate the benefits of having to pull weeds by hand. Nothing else takes us into our gardens and in contact with the earth in quite the same way.

This morning I was blessed with the perfect weeding weather: cloudy and cool. The soil was a bit moist from the not-quite-enough rainfall of yesterday, and it was a pleasure to be able to surrender myself to the task of pulling weeds. I once again marveled at how much all the plants in my “Annual Alley” have grown in the past two weeks. Weeds, annuals and self-seeded “party crashers” filled the bed, staking a claim to the nutrients and sunlight. The weeds and excess volunteers needed to go before the wrong plants won.

As I started to pull and disturb the ground, a catbird became my BFF. He sat on the vegetable garden fence, watching me work and waiting to see what tasty treats I would pull from the ground. He would spy the tiniest white grub that I tossed onto the ground behind me, flying down to grab it as soon as it landed. For awhile we planted a game of Nervy Bird, as I tossed grubs and a couple worms closer and closer, to see just how bold he would be. 

The buckets and wheelbarrows filled, and the catbird would perch on the edges and look to see if any thing valuable was being thrown out with the weeds and dirt. That bird ate well this morning, and my phone got dirty as I tried to take his photo with my garden gloves still on.

Emptying the wheelbarrow in the compost, I saw that the majority of plants I pulled were not weeds, but volunteer annuals. I call them my “party crashers.” As the host of this garden party, I have a responsibility to make sure the invited guests (the annuals I grew and planted) are made comfortable and have a good time. Just because a bunch of Nicotiana, Verbena bonariensis, or Verbascum show up doesn’t mean they should all be allowed to stay. There are many times when the gardener needs to say, “Thanks for coming, bye!” 

Weeding is good exercise. It’s a great form of meditation as you let all else fall away and focus on just one thing: pulling weeds. This garden task is also a reminder that everything is connected to everything else. And a catbird just might become your new best friend. 

I sit on the ground as I weed, occasionally even lying down so that I’m face to leaf with some of my plants. The weeds and excess party crashers get tossed into a bucket that I pull behind me. Grubs and an earthworm or two are tossed over my shoulder for the birds.

The cat bird, attracted by the fact that I was disturbing the soil, came to peer over my shoulder from the fence.

He would perch on the rim of the purple weed bucket, looking inside incase I was foolish enough to toss out a perfectly good grub or beetle. You can barely see him in this photo, but he was hopping toward me and was just below the purple bucket on the left, his tail in the air. After I took this picture he repeatedly called to me…I don’t know if he was saying “No pictures, please!” or “Those grubs are mighty small…how about a fat worm or two?”

The large leaves are Nicotiana…the over-achiever of party crashers. Into the compost pile they go!



  1. Buffy Alten

    I love this CL. This is why we love gardening, we get lost in time. commune with the birds…. in my case 2 red tailed hawks and their 2 fledglings…. who , of course, have no interest in the grubs or worms… just a bunny, chipmunk or mouse. And at the end of day, we have a nicely kept garden bed to appreciate with a glass of wine. Oh…. of course there will be more waiting for us to tidy up tomorrow….. the gardens are always calling us.

  2. John Williams

    That wheel barrel full of stuff may be marketable. All you have to do is tell everyone that it makes the best compost. They will believe you because you are the Garden Lady. If you offer to give them a free load, they may come and help fill the wheel barrel. LOL

    • CL Fornari

      Funny, John! I’ll remember this if I get hard up for funds… 😉

  3. Frances Carreiro

    Pulled up the invasive Spider Wort today and took your advice from yesterday’s show and put down the Sunday paper and covered with a good layer of mulch. I will win this war!

    • CL Fornari

      You will, Fran! May The Force be with you!

  4. Catherine Logan

    My biggest problem is being able to tell the weeds from the perennials. So many look similar. I often have to wait to see if what I think might be a weed actually flowers. It is particularly problematic when I have planted new seeds or spread seeds that I’ve harvested from one of my perennials. I’ve tried to use a plant identifying app but without success. I just get more unsure.

    • CL Fornari

      I know what you mean – here’s a trick I use, however: I always plant my perennials in groups of three or five – if there’s only one plant I am uncertain of, I can be more sure it’s a weed. Also, when planting seeds for new varieties that I’m not familiar with how the seedlings look, I always either sow them in a row or in pots, not directly in the ground. So far the weeds haven’t learned to plant themselves in rows!

  5. catherine logan

    Great suggestions. I will definitely try them all. The last thing i want to do is tbrow out valuable plants.

  6. Anna

    I miss weeding. I temporarily moved to an apartment with a terrace, and put all my favorite plants from my previous garden into pots. Everything looks nice and tidy, but there is nothing to do in the morning, no weeding, no feeling of being part of nature.
    You describe the feeling of weeding very well. I like your blog and the catbird.

    • CL Fornari

      Thanks, Anna! In the early 1990’s we moved to a rental for three years and I too had no gardening to do…and I missed weeding. So on occasion I would go to public parks with my basket and gloves and just do some “vigilante weeding.” No one questioned me 😉


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