Category Archives: Weeding

Rainy Days Are Perfect for…Weeding?

DSC_7438It stopped raining for about 2 hours on Tuesday morning, and I was out pulling weeds as fast as I could.  Unfortunately, the rich clay soil in Palo Alto means that weeds that set in, stay in, even when you try to amend the soil.  When it rains late in the season, like this, it’s the perfect opportunity to pull weeds that set in long roots that are really hard to pull as the weather warms up and the soil dries out.

Although there are a number of great tools out there to use on weeds, I tend to use my bare hands (I could give you 100 reasons why this is a terrible idea – it’s a bad habit) and a digger (also called a weeder – a long, forked tool) or, in a pinch, a long flat-head screwdriver.

When the ground is soft, and the plant isn’t too big, feel down to the base of the plant either right above the soil level, or, even better, just below it (dig around the base with your fingers.)  Pinch the base of the plant with your fingers and apply a steady, strong force upwards.  Never jerk or pull too fast, this will break the root off, and then you’ll have to pull it again in a few weeks when it grows back.

If pulling isn’t an option, dig down right next to the plant with the digger, and then apply force downward, wrenching the plant, with the root, upwards.  Sometimes you have to do this repeatedly, moving around the plant until the roots are all pulled free.

My targets today were:

1)  Mallow

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I LOVE mallow, especially in its cultivated form “Cape Mallow.”  However, the variety of mallow we get in our gardens is usually “Common Mallow” or Malva neglecta (isn’t that an awesome name?)

While common mallow can be very pretty, it spreads really fast and is invasive.  The tap roots extend down sometimes more than twice the height of the plant above ground, and so they can be impossible to pull successfully.

2)  Purple Salsify

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I also love salsify, because it’s beautiful, but if you leave it in, you will be overrun, especially on your lawn (and your neighbors’ lawns, too.)

Just like mallow, salsify has long roots which are easy to pull in wet weather.  However, I find that it’s hard to pull the younger plants.  When they get 8 inches tall or more, it’s pretty easy to pull them up, root and all.  Smaller plants will break in the middle.

3)  Dandelions, thistle, and the like

Plants that look like dandelions (including the spiky thistles) are always on my weed hit list, but they’re easier to pull when it’s wet.  Unless the plant is small, I recommend always using a digger to help pull out the root intact.

WARNING:  If it looks spiky, it will probably hurt to touch it.  Please use gloves, especially because we also get stinging nettles in this area, and they leave a nasty burn that can take hours to subside.


See that nasty spiky leaf next to the bur clover?  Those little white hairs get stuck in your skin like splinters, and itch and burn ALL day.

4)  Bur Clover


(Bur clover hiding under other weeds)

Bur clover is always on my weed hit list as well, primarily because it, along with fox tails, can really hurt pets.  Early in Spring, you can catch them before the burs have dried and fallen off into the soil, to try to control it for next year, too.

Although they’re easy to pull, I recommend taking great care because they’ll drop the burs with any light tug.  Follow the branches down to the soil level, to pull the root directly – one root usually connects to many branches.  Because bur clover hides under other plants, you’ll need to pull it up gently, so none of the burs fall off into the soil.

The rule is that, if it’s easy to pull, then the plant is probably trying to trick you.  Pull it fast and you’ll end up helping it spread.

5)  NOT Poppies

Poppies look like weeds until they bloom, so be careful to avoid pulling them.  They look like carrots when they’re younger:


But bloom into beautiful orange jewels:

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Especially in the early Spring, they can be a good source of food for the bumbles.


Today I took a field trip down to Almaden Valley Nursery, down in South San Jose, and they had sugar snap peas!

I picked up a couple pony packs and got them in the ground this afternoon:


(As you can see, Hapuna was supervising.)


In addition to the peas, I put a couple more tomatoes in the ground (Mortgage Lifter and more Sweet 100s)

and added some thyme to the herb pot:


You might have noticed the blue tomato cages that I added to the garden.  I found them at Home Depot for only $6 each.

Monday, March 25, 2013 – Gardening in Earnest


The Spring caught me unaware this year, so I’ll be spending my Spring Break trying to catch up on all the weeding and preparation so I can get the peas in the ground. I like Sugar Snap Peas because they’re so tasty, and I can plant them a little later than the Snow Peas. If you get them in in March, you’ll have deliciousness starting in April, and get a few good crops before the heat sends them shooting up and dries them out.

I will also be adding to the strawberry plants. They overwinter pretty easily here, but I’m still working out ways to keep them up out of the way of dogs and snails. Last year I went with pots, but they’re somewhat, ahem, ugly, so I’m still brainstorming on a nicer way to elevate them.

I also usually put in other vegetables – tomatoes and peppers – but I’m thinking of carrots and cukes this year. Once I’ve got the soil prepared, I’ll go to see what’s available as starts. Unfortunately, the world outside the fence is a bit too rough on seeds, so I usually only grow sunflowers, which are hardy as heck, from seed.

I had hoped to raise a few plants from seeds inside, but the time got away from me this year. Thankfully, in the garden there’s always next year.

Update:  Here are the results of 1 – 1.5 hours of work (I’m a bit ADHD in the garden, so some of my time was spent checking in with the other residents of the garden.)


I haven’t swept or cleaned up yet – I wanted to use all my time digging out weeds and other less desirables.