Creative weeding can make a garden a cut above the rest

Erin Schanen


One of my favorite conversations to have with gardeners is about their favorite and most detested jobs in the garden. You could probably come up with a personality profile chart based on the answers, but I’m not going to make any comments about people who list weeding as a favorite job.

To be fair,  weeding does offer one attribute that few other garden jobs can deliver quite as well: satisfaction. There’s nothing like looking at a garden freshly devoid of weeds, the wheelbarrow overflowing with the evidence of hard work. But I would happily live without that pat on the back if it meant never having to pull another weed.

The jobs I like the most are the ones that allow for a creative approach. Planting, of course, falls under this category, but planting begets watering — a task I enjoy in small quantities with one hand free to hold a drink should the timing work out — and that takes some of the joy away.

But there is decision making to be done in tasks at this time of year. One of my favorite jobs is cutting back perennials. Some perennials that have bloomed can be cut back and they will rebloom. Others have done their flowering but they will respond to being cut back by flushing out fresh foliage that looks far better than the tattered leaves they might be sporting by mid-summer.

Nepeta is always a great plant to cut back because it is a relatively reliable rebloomer. I’ve had some varieties bloom three times in one summer, although the first flowering is always the best. Some varieties may have also flopped over by this time, so a good trim just neatens them up.

Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is a fun plant to play around with. After its beautiful, airy, chartreuse flowers are spent, you can either cut back just the flower stalks to the healthy cluster of foliage in the center or you can cut the whole plant back for completely fresh foliage. The second approach leaves the plant looking bare for a bit, but the foliage will still look good in fall, while the first approach, which will never leave a hole in the garden, leaves the foliage looking pretty tired come late September.

Perennial salvia is a another plant that gets a chop in my garden at this time of year. On some varieties I just cut off the flowers, leaving most of the foliage behind, but this year my ‘Caradonna’ salvias flopped open badly (I’ll blame the drought since they aren’t supposed to be prone to such behavior) and got a full chop, except where new foliage was already sprouting in the center. Designer and plantsman Roy Diblik told me that some varieties will continue flowering up the stem, leaving the calyxes of the spent flowers along with new flowers for a two-tone look.

The best part of this mid-summer job is that how, when and if you do it are entirely at the whim of the gardener. It’s the kind of job that makes your garden unlike everyone else’s.

And that’s the kind of job I can look forward to. To heck with the rest.


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