In the long-run, this is where you’ll spend most of your time working in the pollinator garden. You will save time in other areas, such as cleaning up leaves, cutting back in the fall, dead-heading, spreading mulch, and protecting plants so they will survive winter.
What is a weed? Generally, it is a plant that you don’t want in your garden, that spreads quickly, and is difficult to eliminate. Here’s how I deal with weeds in my garden.
New weed seedlings
New weed seedlings are easiest to eliminate. While they are plentiful, they’re also small and easy to pull out. They seem to grow in waves; after I remove them, a new type of weed seed germinates and I have to do it all again. By pulling them often, or at least before they flower and go to seed, you can get rid of them. In my garden, crab grass and chickweed are particularly troublesome. The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden, by Roy Diblik, is available at the Ottawa Public Library and includes a weeding schedule to guide your efforts. It really does work.
Established, perennial weeds
Larger, perennial weeds, like dandelions, Canada thistle, and creeping bellflower, are harder to deal with. Since these weeds live for years, they have a lot of time to develop stubborn root systems. The only way to eliminate them is to continually cut them off at ground level to starve them of light and food. You can either pinch them back with your fingers, or cut them with scissors at soil level. I have also used a diamond shuffle hoe from Lee Valley Tools to slice them off.
No weeding method is perfect. Pulling weeds disturbs the soil and brings new seeds to the surface. Using a shuffle hoe saves you from having to bend over, but will destroy any ground-nesting bee entrances in its path.
Make sure you remove any invasive weeds in your yard, such as dog-strangling vine.
Besides removing weeds, you can also prevent new ones from establishing in your garden.
Avoid soil disturbance
Whenever you dig or stir up the soil in your garden, you bring new weed seeds to the surface. Once these seeds are exposed to sunlight, they will germinate readily. Since I dug out the sod to prepare my pollinator garden, I brought many new weed seeds to the surface. Instead, if you smother the sod with layers of newspaper, you will kill the grass and many of the existing weeds without disturbing the soil. Solarization will also kill weed seeds near the soil surface.
If you arrange plants close together, and use low, ground-cover plants to fill in around them, you reduce the sunlight, moisture, and open soil available to weeds.
Editing native plants
Native plants spread by their roots and by seed, some more aggressively than others. You will need to remove unwanted seedlings and divide large plants when they outgrow their space. I think of seedlings and divisions as free plants to transplant elsewhere in my yard or to give away.
Don’t weed out your new seedlings by mistake: it’s easy to to over-zealous while you’re weeding and accidentally pull out your native plant seedlings. I have done this more than once, especially when I didn’t label them well enough. If you aren’t sure what a plant is, let it grow big enough so you can identify it.