Wednesday, August 21, 2019

My Weed Management Strategies

Like laundry and dirty dishes, weeds are a routine task that needs to get done. In July and August, I find that weeding is my principal garden chore.

My approach tends to be proactive–I do my best to prevent problem weeds from gaining a foothold, but I have a very big garden to manage and weeds are happy to take full advantage of any opportunity.

Here is a look at my overall approach to weed management.

Take stock of any Issues

I always begin my time in the garden with a little stroll. I like to pause and admire what's in bloom, but there is also a very practical purpose to this exercise– I make mental notes on what needs attention and the chores that are the most urgent. If I notice weeds have begun to flower or set seed, I'll target that problem area before I do anything else. If the list of chores is long or I'm otherwise pressed for time, I might only have a chance to cut the flower heads off any weeds. When I have more time, I'll circle back and take care of the roots.

Most importantly, this walk around the yard reminds me of the reason I garden in the first place. It's when I take pleasure in the beauty born of all my hard work.

Assorted Phlox, Rudbeckia triloba 'Prairie Glow' and white Liatris

An Overall Gameplan

As I said, I tend to tackle any urgent weed problem immediately. For me, it doesn't make sense to concentrate on clearing one flowerbed at a time if I know Goldenrod seeds are going airborne at the very back of the yard.

But once everything pressing is addressed, I tend to work through the flowerbeds one at a time, clearing one bed completely before I move to the next. Once an area is done, I will mulch any disturbed ground as a final step.

The Best Time to Weed

After it rains is absolutely the best time to weed. Dry soil, especially if you have clay, can be as hard as a rock! Wet soil is soft and loose making it so much easier to pull weeds.

There seems to be only one drawback to a damp garden– the rain also seems to bring out the mosquitoes. If the bugs are bad, I tend to work in one of the more open areas of the garden (in my experience, mosquitoes love the cover of shade and dense growth).

If the mosquitoes are a worry for you to, try to time your weeding chores on a day when there is a good, stiff breeze. Mosquitoes are not great flyers, so they tend to lie low when there is a wind.

 Not my garden thank goodness! These are weeds in an open field.

 Seeds with Wings

Begin by Gathering all your Tools

My weeding tools couldn't be any more basic. I use a trowel with a sharp point and a heavy-duty plastic bucket (a former plant pot for a tree) to collect anything I pull. I also keep a shovel on hand for anything with stubborn roots and a pair of pruners (if a weed has gone to seed, I will cut the seedhead off first and then remove the rest of the plant. This lessens the chances any seed will drop to the ground or get airborne).

One last thing I should mention. Weeds can be armed and dangerous! While I don't always wear garden gloves, I always put them on when I'm weeding. Etched into my memory is the first time I had a run-in with Stinging Nettles. My fingers were on fire!

Follow the Shade

Some gardeners love the sun, but I find the heat and humidity drains my energy. And I have fair skin that never tans. The sun only plays connect the dots with my fine freckles.

I prefer to wait for an area to move into the shade before I begin my work. After a while, you get used to the way the sun moves across the sky and how that impacts any one portion of the yard.

For instance, I know that the flowerbed next to the pond enjoys a period of shade for a little over an hour in mid-afternoon. The circular garden at the back of the yard is full sun in the morning and shaded in the late afternoon. If I want to weed in the shade, those times are the perfect opportunities.

Garlic Mustard

Know your Weeds

Like so many people, I have had an issue with Garlic Mustard. I've learned its habits and now use that knowledge against its further spread. I watch for Garlic Mustard in early spring. It flowers in May and is a prolific self-seeder. Before the tulips are finished and the perennials have flushed out, I comb the garden for Garlic Mustard and pull any flowering plants. In the fall, I make a second sweep and yank any seedlings that I may have missed. In just a couple of years, I have reduced the initial problem very significantly.

Make sure you Get all the Roots

Canada Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis blows into the garden from the surrounding fields. I appreciate that it is an attractive, late-summer magnet for bees, wasps and other insects, but it is also a terrible thug. It both seeds prolifically and spreads by underground roots.

Once you've dug out a weed that spreads underground, I find it pays to go back over the area a second time and look for any root segments that you may have missed.

 Lilium 'Black Beauty'

 Phlox (the bubblegum pink is self-seeded, the darker shade is 'Niki') and Agastache 'Blue Fortune'

Lilium 'Black Beauty'

The hose snaking its way through the flowerbeds.

Open Ground is an Invitation for Weeds

To my mind, I can fill any open ground with the plants of my choice or nature will make the selection for me.

The perennials in my garden are all snuggly planted. Whenever possible, I layer my plants. For example, I will plant hostas and Lamium at the feet of shrubs. I also let Lamium wander around the feet of taller plants. The Lily you see in the image above grows up through Geranium macrorrhizum 'W. Ingwersen's Variety'.

Watch that you or your furry friend isn't spreading the problem

Just a quick caution to alert you to the possibility that you or your pets may inadvertently become part of the problem.

I looked down the other day when I was weeding only to discover that my skirt was covered in seeds. It took me ten minutes to pick the fuzzy seeds out of my clothes! Piper got covered in seeds as well and had to be brushed clean.

Invasive Weeds

For me, a problem weed or plant is not just aggressive, it's also a plant that is hard to remove where unwanted. Weeds can send out roots that spread underground in many directions. Eradicating them can be very difficult. Even if you dig out the main plant, any roots segments you miss are capable of producing a new plant.

I have written about invasive plants quite extensively, so if that is an issue you are facing, I am going to refer you back to these earlier posts Part 1: Invasive Plants, Part 2: Plants to Avoid and Part 3: How I Eliminated Goutweed from my Garden (a method that might easily be used for weeds as well). 

Balloon Flower, Platycodon grandiflorus

 An older variety of Phlox that sometimes self-seeds.

Phlox paniculata 'Jeana' has clusters of tiny flowers.


My number one strategy for suppressing weeds is to use mulch. Honestly, I could not manage my sizeable garden without it.

Mulch works by depriving seeds of sunlight. A mulch is simply a layer of material (usually organic) that is spread over the surface of the soil. Mulch not only helps suppress weeds, but it also helps with moisture retention and depending on what you use, soil health and fertility. A few organic options might include compost, manure, straw or hay, pine needles, leaf mold, shredded bark, sawdust and wood chips.

A Few Factors to Consider

The drier and woodier the mulch, the slower it will decompose and the fewer nutrients it will add to the soil. Manure, compost and straw may all contain weed seeds, so it is important to know the source of these materials.

Perhaps the best mulch is compost or leaf mold you make yourself. You know what's gone into it, and when its properly made, aged compost shouldn't contain any weed seeds.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Lime', Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate' and a pink Phlox.

I don't mulch every square inch of my garden, but I do mulch most of my flowerbeds. The exception would be a number of mature areas of the garden where the plants are so tightly packed weeds have trouble finding any open ground to colonize.

While I started to make compost and leaf mold, my composter's present output does not meet my full requirements. This is something I hope to rectify in the near future with an overhaul of my present setup. In the meantime, I use natural cedar mulch. It is not super nutritious, but it is effective and very affordable.

Mulch is such an important topic I think I will come back in another post (perhaps after we redo our compost bins) and address it in more detail.

Single Balloon Flower, Platycodon grandiflorus and Phlox 'Eva Cullum'

Do we really want to think of the Garden as a Battleground?

As I wrote in the opening of this article, like housework, gardening is a chore. Our approach to these two tasks is however quite different. We always talk about doing battle with weeds, but it never occurs to us that we are waging war when we pull out the vacuum cleaner. Why is yanking weeds any different than killing germs and getting rid of dust and dirt?

My husband and I had a long discussion about this. "I want to end my post on a positive note," I said to him. "I struggle with the notion of my garden as a battleground." After all, the garden is where I go for peace and comfort. The joy it brings me seems so out-of-step with any notion of winning a war against weeds.

Certainly, there is a long history of gardening as a means of taming or controlling nature to suit our purposes. Modern science has only sharpened the battle cry. Make things fast and easy. Bring on the chemical concoctions!

For me, it's time for a new mindset. I don't want to engage in a struggle with Mother Nature, because I know it is a battle she'd win anyway. If I were to step away from my garden for just a few months, Mother Nature would quickly reclaim her rightful place.

There is no such thing as a spotless house or a weed-free garden and perhaps that is as it should be.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

And the Winner is...

Thank you to everyone who took the time to enter the latest book draw on Facebook, by email and by leaving comments on the blog. 

Thanks also to Thomas Allen & Sons Ltd. for providing the copy of Peony: The Best Varieties for Your Garden by David C. Michener & Carol A. Adelman for the giveaway.

I had my husband help me draw a name. And the winner is Miss dar. Congratulations!

Miss dar, I only have a link to your profile page, so please email me your home address (

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

10+ Plants for Mid-Summer Color

Stepping away from my garden for a few weeks of vacation gave me the opportunity for a renewed perspective. Seeing my garden with a fresh pair of eyes, I am finding that there are a few areas that could use an injection of some mid-summer color.

I am sure I am not alone in this, so I have visited a couple of nurseries and have come up with a list of ten perennials that will give that a bit of refresh to areas of your yard that are looking a bit tired.

The first item on my list is lilies.

In previous years, I let myself get discouraged by lily beetles and stopped planting any new bulbs. This is a bit of a shame because lilies really add color and drama to any mid-summer garden.

 Lily Beetle eggs on the left and larvae on the right.

A mature Lily Beetle.

So I've begun to watch the underside of the leaves for the bright orange eggs and the rather ugly larvae. As Jean Godawa wrote in her helpful article, "Understanding the lifecycle of a garden pest is the first line of defence." I find that wiping away the eggs and larvae keep the bright red insects in check quite nicely. Now I feel confident enough to plant more lilies.

I have a little inspiration to show you how you might use lilies. 

This is Duff and Donna Ever's garden in Nova Scotia. I particularly like the way Donna has tucked the pinky-orange lilies in behind the dark foliage of Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'. Later in the summer, 'Chocolate' will be covered in a cloud of starry, white flowers.

Photo by Sandi Duclos

This is interior designer Sandi Duclos' garden in Kitchener, Ontario. The pink Oriental Lilies looking stunning set against a wall of purple clematis. (Sidenote: I will be showing you more of Sandi's garden in upcoming posts).

I already have a purple clematis. All I need to recreate this combination are some lilies and I know I can find some at our local Farmer's Market. 

If you would also like to add some lilies to your garden, you may be able to find some potted up at a local nursery. Alternatively, bulbs are usually sold in by mailorder in both spring and fall.

Lilium martagon 'Album' in Redford Garden, Quebec.

I haven't forgotten you shade gardeners. There is a type of lily that can handle part-shade. 

Martagon Lilies' downward-facing flowers are smaller than other types of lilies, but the quantity of blooms on a single stem makes up for the tiny size. There can be up to fifty of these delicate blooms on a single stem.  Martagon Lilies like part-shade and moist, well-drained soil. USDA zones 3-7.

Veronica 'Perfectly Picasso'

On its own, it can be a little understated, but as a companion plant, Veronica is hard to beat. It seems to compliment so many other perennials!

Veronica requires full sun and are quite happy in average garden soil. Depending on the cultivar, they're hardy USDA zones 3 or 4-9. If you deadhead them after they flower, Veronica may even produce a second flush of blooms.

An all-white mix of  Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo', Sweet Alyssum and Veronica 
'White Wands' in my own garden. 

Last year I created a brand new flower border in full sun and was able to incorporate a big patch of Echinacea for the first time. As I result, I am noticing more butterflies in the garden this July. A big clump of Blue Star may now be sacrificed so I can plant yet more Echinacea!

Echinacea is easy to grow. Give them full sun. I have tried them in part shade and I find they don't do nearly as well. Like most perennials, they like well-drained soil. Too much moisture can cause root rot. Echinacea forms a slowly expanding clump that should be divided every few years to maintain its vigour. Depending on the cultivar, they're hardy USDA zones 3 or 4-9.

Pink Coneflowers (Echinacea) along with Shasta Daisies and Globe Thistle, Echinops ritro in 
Mira's garden in Guelph, ON.

Here's a pretty plant combination to inspire you to plant Echinacea. It also works really well with Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium), Agastache, Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), and Phlox Paniculata.

Helenium autumnale Mariachi 'Fuego'

Sneezeweed or Helenium autumnale is a North American native plant that can often be found growing in wild, damp meadows. The hybrids that you'll find at the nursery are tall, upright perennials with daisy-like flowers in an array of hot colors. They like full sun and average to moist garden soil. Hardy USDA zones 3 or 4-9.

Plant Helenium along with Phlox, Russian Sage, Rudbeckia and Ornamental Grasses.

While the best time to plant Helenium is in the spring, they are showy now, so nurseries usually have displays of them at this time of year. If you do purchase a plant, make sure to keep it well watered until it is established.

Have you ever planted something and then promptly forgotten what it is you planted (learning once again that it pays to add plant markers)? 

For the last couple of months, I have been completely puzzled by something I added to my old nursery bed. I knew it wasn't a weed. Finally, it's blooming last week and I know what I planted. It's a Liatris ligulistylis! 

Liatris in a prairie style planting at Edward Garden in Toronto.

White Liatris spicata in my own garden.

You may be more familiar with Dense Blazing Star, Liatris spicata. It's a native plant that has vertical flower spikes and thin, strappy foliage. The lavender or white flowers open from top to bottom over a period of several weeks. This plant grows two to four feet tall, likes full sun and moist to average, well-drained soil. USDA zones 2-9.

Meadow Blazing Star, Liatris ligulistylis is less commonly seen in gardens and is a perennial native to the Canadian Prairies. The flowers are more tufted and the plant stems are eggplant in color. Liatris ligulistylis is taller than Liatris spicata and can reach a height of 5 feet when planted in rich garden soil. Liatris ligulistylis likes full sun and average to moist soil. It's hardy USDA Zones: 3-7.

The reason to track down Liatris ligulistylis are the butterflies. They seem to love this plant! When the flowers are finished, the seeds are popular with goldfinches.

You should be able to find potted Liatris spicata in creamy-white and purple at your local nursery. Liatris ligulistylis can be tracked down at speciality nurseries and online.

With climate change, many gardeners are looking for plants that can handle heat and drought conditions. Yarrow is a tough, drought-tolerant perennial that likes a hot, dry, sunny location. 

While the species plant Achillea millefolium spreads by underground rhizomes, many of the modern cultivars and hybrids have improved features like stronger stems, larger flowers and clump-forming habits.  They like full sun, good drainage and average to poor soil. Depending on the cultivar, hardy USDA zones 2-9. I have written about Yarrow in the past, so I am going to refer you back to that blog post for more information on Yarrow.

Daylilies have to make my list. They put on such a nice display of flowers mid-summer and are such easy-to-grow perennials. Full sun and average garden soil are all you need to be successful with these plants. Soil moisture is key to having spectacular blooms and will even encourage re-blooming.

Daylilies in a private front garden.

Two different colors of daylilies along with orange Butterfly Weed and purple Liatris in Mira's garden in Guelph, ON.

Ideally, daylilies should be planted in the spring or the fall. One advantage to shopping for daylilies now is the opportunity to hand-select the perfect combination of flower form and color from a local grower. Many daylily farms have open houses at this time of year. Alternatively, you should be able to find a limited selection of daylilies at most nurseries. In the spring, you can order them from many online sources.

There was a time you rarely saw this plant, but Betony, Stachys monieri has become more popular of late. I like this perennial's versatility. I have it planted in full sun in rather dry conditions and also in part-shade. It does have one minor drawback – the soft, slightly furry leaves are prone to insect damage.

If you are a plant collector like me, you may want to watch out for this plant. I rarely see it in gardens, which is a shame. 

It is Big Betony, Stachys macrantha 'Rosea' and is sometimes listed as Stachys Grandiflora (I hope I have the I.D. right-please correct me if I am mistaken). The notes I found suggests moist, rich soil and full sun, but I have my plant in dry, part-shade. USDA zones 2-9. Again, a great option for mid-summer.

Butterfly weed 

Asclepias incarnata 'Ice Ballet'

Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata is a clump-forming perennial that is an important food source for Monarch butterflies. I have the pink form as well as the white variety called 'Ice Ballet'. Both are growing in light shade, but they would be just as happy in full sun. Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa is newer to my garden. I just love that bright orange color mixed with the soft blue flowers of Calamintha.

Again I have written rather extensively about these plants, so I will refer you back to an earlier blog post for more information.

You can just make out the legs of the spider under the bee.

Why is this honey bee upsidedown?

It's because he has been captured by a white spider who has been lying patiently in wait on the blue spike of this Agastache flower. Insects flock to this mid-summer bloomer, so it is a good place for a spider to hide.

 I love the frosty blue flowers of Agastache and the pinkish cast the leaves take on as the temperatures drop. 'Blue Fortune' blooms from mid-July well into October. Full sun to light shade and average soil and moisture conditions. USDA zones 2-9.

A couple of bonus plants for shade. While hosta are primarily a foliage plant, they can be quite pretty when in flower. 'Blue Mouse Ears' is a mini-hosta that has sweet little flowers mid-summer.

Please forgive my soft focus here. I really wanted to show you the Corydalis elata that I admired in Donna Ever's garden during my recent visit to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I saw it a second time at Redford Garden in Quebec where it was planted in among ferns and other shade-loving plants.

Corydalis elata hails from Southwest China. It has elegant green foliage and tubular blue flowers that are fragrant. Donna tells me, "It blooms forever." It likes dappled sunlight and rich, woodland soil that remains evenly moist. USDA zones 5-9.

If you are purchasing any of the perennials off this list, please keep in mind the days in early August are hot and dry. This isn't an ideal time to plant anything. I don't think you'll have a problem however if you make sure any new plant is watered routinely.

Do you have a favourite mid-summer perennial that I should have included in this list? Please share!