Thoughts on Weeding

Cape May, NJ – I grab a a dandelion-like rosette of leaves and give it a firm yank. There had been rain the day before, so the ground is soft.

I slowly, carefully pull out the entire unwanted plant, with six inches of long white taproot. Nothing left to resprout a month from now. Oh that feels good.

Weeding is not for the impatient and it’s definitely not for those who want permanence.

At best, weeding is a delusion. If I pull out all of this crabgrass, then I will never see it again. Right.

You know the phrase “grows like a weed?” Enough said.

The Ways of Weeds

I’m on my knees, favorite weeding implement in hand, staring down a fine, airy mat of something or other with tiny, tiny, tiny white flowers. This delicate looking plant is beginning to take over a flower bed, as per usual.

I’ve waited too long. The mat already is putting down roots everywhere. As I slowly pull up each set of roots, I can sense the tiny, tiny, tiny seeds from those tiny flowers scattering all over the ground. I am creating a new weed bed for next spring.

Weeds are wonderful mimics. Take a look at a “good” plant and at the weeds growing nearby. Often, they look surprisingly alike. I’m convinced this is no accident. Weeds are much smarter than we think.

I don’t know the names of many of the weeds I come into contact with so I’ve cataloged them as lacy stuff or nasty grass or looks like dandelion but isn’t.

The Politics of Weeding

I do know the name of purple dead nettle. I don’t know why it’s called dead nettle – it’s so very much alive. Actually, for a weed, very pretty. I always feel a bit of guilt when I pull it up because one nature friend told me early butterflies use it for nectar. Oh well.

It’s not the only weed that comes with political baggage. Take pokeweed. If you let pokeweed grow to maturity it becomes a huge, bushy thing with deep purple berries that birds love.

Bird people don’t like it very much if you pull up pokeweed. What will the birds eat?

But if you let the politics of the situation cause you to delay taking action, suddenly you’ll find you have a weed with an extraordinary taproot that will never be unearthed.

So I pull up the pokeweed seedlings, but always with a bit of guilt. The birds will find more than enough to eat in the rest of our huge yard. But I have been imprinted with the notion that “pokeweed is good.” For birds, maybe. For gardeners, no.

The Dangers of Weeding

Weeding is not without its perils.

Voles and moles love to burrow under those big mats of weeds. It gives their little holes a nice safe ceiling. I am not a lover of rodents. I stay as far away as possible as I gingerly lift those mats, prepared to run at a moment’s notice.

Snakes are always a possibility in our yard as well. But rodents and snakes pale in comparison with the threat of the big PI – Poison Ivy.

Garden Partner, thinking he was doing a fine, fine thing, took it upon himself to tackle the weeds growing up among the New England Asters early in the season.

His thanks – an armful of blisters that he shared with me. For two weeks, only hot water could ease the itch.

So, as I slowly, gently tug on a new mat of weeds and end up with a wiry. tough vine in my hands, we go into Poison Ivy Alert. We now know the drill.

“Cold water!” Garden Partner shouts as I head to the sink.

Did you know hot water can make poison ivy worse. Yes. It can.

The next day, no blisters. Is it because of my precautions? Or is it because that vine was really a long long piece of Virginia Creeper? We will never know.

What I do know is that the PI alert cut short that day’s weeding.

Today, my friend, I am heading back out to fight the good fight.

Wish me well.

About Jane Kashlak

Jane Kashlak is a journalist, a gardener and a Cape Island resident. She's also Cape May Times' photographer. She founded Cape May Times after a long and lively career in TV news.