I have had people swear to me that they enjoy weeding, thinning, and deadheading, that there is “something Zen about it.” I think these people are either liars or go through life habitually trying to turn pigs into prom queens.
I love nothing better than being in my garden, especially if that means I am out there with a book and a glass of iced tea. But I detest what I think of as the icky-picky chores of growing things. I have to force myself to do it, usually by telling myself there will be no dinner until I have done 15 minutes of these chores.
In many ways you weed and thin for identical reasons. Crowded plants struggling for food, water and sunlight are weaker plants. Crowding also inhibits air circulation, which invites diseases. With weeds, however, you have two other compelling reasons for removing them: Some produce toxins that will hurt your plants, and established weeds can march across your land with the determination of a conquering army. Easy to remove when they are young, established weeds often develop multiple ways to carry on — by seed, sucker, and underground roots.
When seedlings are young, the easiest way to thin and weed is to use really sharp scissors to cut them off at ground level. For larger weeds and areas, a hoe works wonderfully, although it takes a bit of practice to learn how to wield one. Just make sure your hoe is sharp, which means attending to the blade several times during the season. And remember, you can put thinnings in your salads, soups and smoothies, along with weeds like chickweed, lambs’ quarters and fireweed.
It is a bit early for deadheading, although I noticed today that my potted violas and pansies had some shriveled heads that need to be removed. Plants are driven to reproduce, and if you keep removing the flowers, many annuals think their job is not done so they keep making more flowers. Leave then on, and not only does it look shabby, but the plant goes on to the next part of its life cycle. The only time I let the spent flowers stay on the stems is when I want varieties that self seed to do so. Poppies are a good example, as are violas.
Some flowers don’t rebloom even with deadheading. Irises won’t give you additional blossoms no matter when you deadhead. Other flowers, such as some varieties of petunias, deadhead themselves. Unfortunately, these types of petunias look like they are full of used Kleenex until the blossoms finally get dry and fall off, so I pick them off anyway.
Here is the bottom line: If you want the best looks and maximum yield, weed, thin and deadhead.
Linden Staciokas has gardened in the Interior for more than two decades. Send gardening questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.