The Zen of Weeding

I love weeding.

I know what you’re thinking.  I didn’t always feel that way.  Hang with me a few minutes; let me explain.

Several years ago, while I was a Horticulture student, I worked as a summer intern at the JC Raulston Arboretum.   The interns were responsible for the daily care of the eight acre garden, along with the Head Gardener, his assistant and the many, many volunteers who keep the place thriving beautifully.  We dug, planted, mulched, mowed, propagated, cleaned, fertilized, watered, and watered some more.  There was a severe drought that year.  It was a very tough summer and we were fighting thirst every day – I’m not sure if we or the plants sucked up more water.   The heat was relentless.   Overall though, I’m pretty sure we spent the largest chunk of our time weeding.  Sometimes we would be assigned a specific garden area – the White Garden, the Conifer Collection, the Geophyte Border, but the real killer was weeding the Annual Bedding Plant Trial Beds.  It was big and out in the sun, only doable first thing in the morning during a summer like that one.  Row after row of low growing plants were there – all different varieties of petunias, geraniums, portulaca, zinnias, and many other annuals being evaluated for the market.

In the trial beds, we knelt or sat to do our work.  Some of us used only our hands; some used tools.  Being close to the ground, it was possible to view the whole plant as well as the soil around it.  The plants in the Arboretum trial beds weren’t likely to have disease or insect infestations because they were so closely monitored, but occasionally something will flare up in my garden.  If I’m getting close to my plants by weeding around them by hand, I’ll see problems before they take hold.

One of the things I came to appreciate about weeding that summer was how it taught me to notice subtle differences in foliage shape, texture, and color.  It was an important lesson in seeing, and seeing detail.  It’s been with me ever since.

Why do people say they hate weeding?  I think it depends on how you think about it.  The physical act of pulling a plant out of the ground by its roots is a very simple thing, but admittedly not a lot of fun.  Part of the fun comes in the cleaner look, the definition of the individual plants, the assurance that you’ve seen your plants at ground level and know how they’re doing.

You’ll notice the condition of the soil and the plants themselves.  As you extricate henbit and chickweed from around your desired plants, you’ll notice the strength of the crown, the color and tone of the top and underside of the leaves, the first flower buds.

Every now and then, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a plant growing.  Yes, that’s right and you’ll never convince me otherwise.  It’s like a quick snap – I’m never sure exactly what it is, but I know it when it happens.  It might be the tip of a petal reflexing.  It might be the turning of a leaf.

Wildlife is the second, but equally important, reason I like to get down with the plants and quietly weed.   The bees, birds and butterflies get used to me being in their midst.  I can take my camera with me and get some amazing shots.  They’re my favorite part of gardening and one of the greatest rewards for weeding.  I don’t make much noise, don’t move too fast and the critters get more and more comfortable with my presence.   And what a wonderful feeling it is to realize one’s own garden is a welcoming environment, not just to plants but animals as well!  Wildlife is honest.  If wildlife is in your garden, you’re doing something right.

Embrace the task.  Be there in the moment, completely mindful of the experience you’re living.  Let the rest of the world fall away from your consciousness.  Use all your senses to engage with the life that surrounds you.  The sights, the sounds and the smells all inform you of your garden’s health.  You’ll feel part of your garden as you never have before.

It’s this intimacy that makes the garden yours, just as you know your partner or your child or your parent or pet.  Your labor and attention give proprietorship in a way that a financial transaction never can.  If you garden mindfully, you know what I mean.

I find weeding to be one of the most rewarding aspects of gardening.   If you try looking at it in a new way, I bet you’ll find it more pleasant than you used to.  Here are some suggestions to make weeding easier and less daunting:

  • Weed frequently for short blocks of time/stay with it if the mood grabs you.
  • Pick a comfortable time of day for the area you will weed – sunny spots in the morning, shadier spots when the sun burns hottest.
  • Take advantage of the softer soil after a rain, being careful to keep your feet on paths or stepping stones to avoid compacting the moist soil.
  • Pull weeds before they flower – no flower = no seed to create more weeds!
  • Compost your weeds, keeping in mind that this is next year’s soil and your garden’s food that you won’t need to buy.
  • Use 3-4 inches of mulch to block weeds.  Newspaper is also a very effective weed block – if you use it, you can get by on a bit less mulch.   NEVER use landscape fabric.

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” – Thich Nhat Hanh


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9 Responses to The Zen of Weeding

  1. Wendy says:

    Beautiful! Thank you for this, we’ve just had some good rains and the weeds are sprouting, your post made me look forward to pulling weeds when I had been procrastinating!

  2. Barbie says:

    thank you for this post. It will give me a new perspective when I weed and when I am close to my soil and plants. To be mindful is something we always need to be conscious of. This is the way we learn.

    • Laura says:

      Thanks, Barbie – just like most of life, it is all in the attitude. Thanks for visiting my blog and for the comment!

  3. Jean says:

    Laura, I just recently discovered your blog on Blotanical, and I have become a fan. I do a “Blog of the Month” feature on my blog, Jean’s Garden, where I review and recommend garden blogs to my readers. Your blog is one of two that I am highlighting this month; my post reviewing your blog just went up, and your blog will also be featured on my sidebar throughout the month. -Jean

  4. Donna says:

    Laura I am just discovering your blog in earnest thx to Jean’s post about your blog…it is fantastic…wonderfully written…I love weeding when I have the time and for all the reasons you state….I actually find it relaxing and a great way to meditate and let my mind wander…

  5. What a lovely post. I used to hate weeding, but I’ve learned the truth of what you say, that it is a great way to understand what is happening in the garden, and can be amazingly peaceful. I’d never thought about the opportunity for observing wildlife, but thank you, great point.

  6. Vesna says:

    I completely agree with you about weeding. Love the post. to me, the whole thing about gardening is pure zen or, at leasts I think it should be.

    • Laura says:

      Thanks, Vesna, you are so right! It’s all such a gift – we can always get back to our stresses later. When in the garden, whatever I’m doing, I try to really be there 100%. I’m sure it will add years to my life!
      Thanks for stopping by,

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