In the Garden:
New England
May, 2003
Regional Report

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1064

Lamb's quarters , a relative of spinach, is a tasty, nutritious "weed."

Weed Early, Weed Often

Once spring gets going here in northern New England, it gets going fast. Just a few short weeks ago, everything was brown and dreary; now the landscape glows with the colors of azaleas, tulips, and lush new foliage. A few weeks ago, I was pining to get my hands in the soil; today I'm out weeding overgrown dandelions from the flower gardens.

Weeds are opportunists, and right now opportunity is calling. Nature doesn't like bare soil – especially the rich soil of garden beds --and wants to protect her precious resource. So weeds come to the rescue, filling in and keeping soil from eroding and compacting. I try to remember this, instead of viewing weeds as the enemy. They're just doing their job. If you consider weeds for what they are – ordinary plants that, to you, happen to be growing in the wrong place – then they take on a less adversarial role.

A Perennial Problem
It's a gardening cliché, but now really IS the time to get out and weed. Perennial weeds, such as those dandelions, are at their most vulnerable. Perennials store food in their roots to give them the energy they need to survive winter and sprout in the spring. Right now, their food reserves are at their lowest and they're just beginning to replenish those reserves. Even if you aren't able to remove all the roots, by continually pulling sprouting weeds you'll eventually deplete their roots of stored energy.

An Annual Annoyance
Annual weeds are germinating now. Their root systems are small, making them easy to pull. Weeds such as lamb's quarters can grow to maturity surprisingly fast, and once they're mature, each plant will produce thousands of seeds. Pull them while they're young and you won't be pulling their offspring.

Mulch Immediately
Weed seeds lay dormant, waiting for the right conditions to sprout. Pulling weeds means leaving bare soil, signaling seeds to sprout. If possible, cover newly weeded soil with protective mulch. I prefer a 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded bark in flower beds, and grass clippings, shredded leaves, or straw in vegetable gardens. Placing a layer of newspapers or cardboard down first will help block weeds, and allow you to reduce the thickness of mulch. To minimize disease problems, keep the mulch a few inches away from plant stems to allow air to circulate.

Spring Fever
Let's face it: It's much more fun to plant than to weed. But by weeding and mulching now you'll save yourself so much trouble later on! Try to set aside a day just for weeding. Don't be tempted by the displays of colorful plants at your local nursery – not today. Put your head down, play some music if you are so inclined, and weed.

Here at NGA we get one floating Gardening Day per year. (It's really just a personal day, but it sounds so much nicer!) Vacation and other personal days get used up with other responsibilities, so it's a luxury to set aside a day just for gardening. It's amazing how much weeding you can get done in one day! Perhaps you can designate one of your vacation days as your own personal gardening day. Or maybe even take a (*cough*) sick day. After all, everyone has heard of spring fever. Don't take an aspirin, just get out there and weed! (But don't blame me if you get caught.)


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