weeding bucket, trug, gardenPrinted directions and warnings for products that require only a modicum of common sense exhaust me. Yesterday I purchased a vanity mirror with accompanying booklet in four languages on how to a) plug it in and b) turn it on.  On page four were various line drawings in red and black depicting line people being electrocuted upon getting into their line bathtubs inexplicably holding their line mirrors.

Though it took only 30 seconds to skim, it sucked six minutes of life energy from an already dampened spirit.

Thus I am aware that an article titled ‘How to Weed’ may have the same affect upon you.


There is strategy to be considered when pitting ourselves against our weeds; and there are those who do need the occasional line drawing.

A few weeks ago a friend that does not garden asked for my advice on something or other, and when I stressed the importance of getting the goose grass out of her beds before all hell broke loose on the seed front, she asked “When you dig it, how do you know it is dead?”

“For one, a total lack of connection to the soil” came the wry answer – but it did occur to me that perhaps things are not as obvious as we may think.

I’ve been doing an enormous amount of weeding these last few weeks.  My garden needs reclaiming after a spring and summer of travel and neglect, and again, going back to the strategy motif, I find it next to useless to flit all over the place in a frenzy.  In the absence of paid labor, strategy must be employed instead – particularly when dealing with the amount of areas I have chosen to cultivate.

Thus: How to Weed.  From posture to pulling, there are Important Things to be considered – in fact, there are so many that I’ll concentrate on techniques and tools this week and follow-up with strategies, posture, and weed disposal next time.

My Top Weeding Tips

Weed smart: Know your weeds

Get familiar with the weeds on your property so you know how best to kill them.  Some are just as fragile as the rare beauties you have planted, and will expire when you scrape the earth with a sharp hoe; but others (particularly the grasses) need a strong hand and a sharp trowel to separate soul from body.  If you, your gardening acquaintances and your mother don’t know what your weeds are, go to the cooperative extension service for your state.  Google the address.  You can bring weeds in or email them photos, but chances are they’ve got full color pictures on their website.


weeds, weed seedlings, garden

Recognizing weed seedlings when they are small allows you to scrape now instead of digging later.


Weed smart: Roots and all

In the absence of paid labor, strategy must be employed instead – particularly when dealing with the amount of areas I have chosen to cultivate.

Most of the time this is the best policy.  It ensures that the weed is completely gone.  I find the best way to do this is on hands and knees with a sharp, angled trowel (see Weeding Tools, below).  The sharp point loosens the grip of the roots in the soil without disturbing the soil too drastically. In the case of some weeds such as wire grass or mugwort, a tiny bit of root or stolon left in the ground where you can’t see it means you’ll be revisiting that weed later.  You may need to use a herbicidal spot treatment in this area.

For weeds that need little encouragement to disengage their roots from the soil, grasp the plant firmly at the base and pull.  If you hear a snap, you’d better get out the trowel.  I always glance quickly at the weed to make sure I’ve got that root mass.

Weed smart: Use the weather

Moist soil is a pleasure to weed.  Do not wait for it to rain in order to weed (in the case of our current summer you’ll never get out there), but when it does, put on your grubbiest jeans and jump at the opportunity.


wheelbarrow, weeds, hoe, garden

My Top Weeding Tools

Recommending tools is difficult. The reasons why we love a certain tool are as personal as why we like our eggs prepared in a certain way (soft-boiled BTW).  I can only give you the tools that work for me – that I would not be without when weeding – and hope you find them as useful as I do.  A good tool quickly becomes as precious as an old friend (though you tend to treat the latter better).

4-inch Pointing Trowel

trowel, masons trowel, gardening trowel, gardening

My absolute favorite tool in the garden – and an old friend.

This is an archaeologist’s trowel and a mason’s trowel – it is also the only trowel I use and ever want to use in the garden. It combines a sharp point for digging or carefully excavating, with a flat sharp edge for scraping.  All this combined with an ergonomic angle.  The only thing this trowel doesn’t do is scoop.

I still have the one I bought 23 years ago in a hardware shop on Tottenham Court Road in London, but have given it siblings over the years through Marshalltown Company in Iowa.  Gloriously, they now carry a custom belt holster for it (for you’ll find that the angle and the small blade size make it prone to falling out of one’s pocketses).

Cobrahead Mini Weeder & Cultivator:

Cobrahead weeder, weeding

For getting into tight spaces, the Cobrahead is a terrific tool

I could easily weed with only my mason’s trowel and my hands, but when I’m working in tight spots or in an area that needs more scraping than pulling, the Cobrahead Mini-Weeder is a terrific tool.  It has a slender curved blade and a comfortable handle that gets around intensively planted annuals and perennials without causing any damage.  Personally, I prefer the Mini to the original size – it feels more like an extension of my hand.

Stirrup Hoe

stirrup hoe, weeding, garden

A stirrup hoe scrapes and cuts with blades on both the push and pull sides.


For those who prefer standing when weeding, and whose weeds only require swift decapitation, the open rectangular blade of the stirrup hoe is invaluable.  It scrapes the soil without moving it around like a traditional hoe.  Keep it sharp and it can weed a 4×8 raised bed smothered in chickweed in the space of five minutes. Models by Hoss and A.M Leonard have a pivoting bracket assembly which keeps the blade at the correct cutting angle on both push and pull strokes.

Next time: Weeding Strategies

Five minutes here, fifteen minutes there…it all adds up and makes a huge amount of difference – but how do you focus that time?  Next time we’ll discuss the best strategies, and also discuss why good posture habits can drastically change how you think about weeding.

Meanwhile I see from my office window that the light rain has finished, the cloud cover is still thick, and it’s high time to put those trusty tools to use.