The past couple of weekends I have managed to find a few hours to begin weeding (and planting) the vegetable garden. Usually I do a final weeding in late October and cover as many of the raised beds as possible with the leaves and grass clippings from the last couple of mowings. Last October’s surprise Halloween snowstorm left the yard in such a disarray (not to mention us without power for almost a week) that the beds really did not get cleaned up. That, coupled with the mild winter and warm temperatures of a few weeks ago, has left me with lots of weeding to do.
The gardener in me does not mind weeding nearly as much as my knees do. It gives me a chance for a closer look at the soil, to inspect overwintering plants (strawberries, asparagus, thyme, etc.) for any problems, and to find and relocate self-seeding annuals. Even when I get around to putting a winter blanket of grass clippings and leaves on the raised beds, I put a lighter coat in areas around self-seeders.
Most of these perpetual annuals are flowering plants but I have three herbs that come back to enthrall me with their distinctive fragrances – dill, bronze fennel and chamomile. I planted them years ago and am still enjoying their company. Dill leaves and seed heads get dried each year for use in breads and soups. Bronze fennel is wonderful to chew on but mostly I leave it for swallowtail butterfly larvae food and as a smoky background for my ‘Franklin’ rose. Chamomile flowers make a wonderful, soothing tea. They can be plucked, dried and steeped in hot water for a wonderfully calming tea.
Some self-seeders I have to hunt for. These include sunflowers, balsam, snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia), white lace flower (Orlaya) and golden chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria). There usually are enough plants to repopulate the area but numbers vary by year. Typically, I hedge my bet by sowing more snow-on-the mountain, although germination is better in my garden than under my plant lights! I love this plant for arrangements!
Others I will never be rid of! This longer list includes nicotiana, nigella, calendula, tall verbena, ageratum, bupleurum, anise hyssop, perilla, corydalis, johnny-jump-up, feather celosia, bluehead gilea, and browalia. There are probably a few others but they do not come to mind at the moment.
So the question when weeding is how many plants should I reposition? For single colored plants like tall verbena or bupleurum, corydalis or nicotiana, this is matter of fact – 6 to 12 depending on how much seed they produce and their aesthetic or cut flower value. The nigellas, calendulas, balsams, celosias and violas bloom in several different colors so keeping more of them for a varied palette makes sense.
Since most of my plants were at one time started from seed, it is pretty easy for me to tell the difference between the plants I want to keep and the weeds. Beginning gardeners might need a bit of practice. One clue is that self-seeders tend to germinate in the same area they were planted in the previous year.
Another consideration when searching for seedlings is what temperature the soil needs to be at for the seeds to germinate. Cool temperature plants like nigella, bupleurum and calendula are already an inch or more tall. Balsam and feather celosia like warmer soil temperatures so I have not found them yet.
While I grow a considerable number of other flowers throughout the gardens, I do appreciate these self-seeding garden staples. I can count on them to blend well with my vegetables and herbs, supply plenty of cut flowers, and also to attract a number of beneficial insects, pollinators and butterflies. And best of all – they’re free!
Good Gardening to You! Dawn