Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Simple Art of Weeding

I am a firm believer in hand weeding, when possible.  When I weed, I see my garden up close and personal, in a way that I almost never do otherwise.  It helps me to understand what's going on in the soil and with the microfauna that are so important to a well functioning natural area.  It's also relaxing, almost meditative, when I can let go and "get into the zone."

As many of you know, we spent much of last summer's heat and drought on our hands and knees planting buffalo grass plugs that I'd ordered with a complete lack of 20/20 foresight.  We've been thrilled this spring to see that most of those plugs survived both the bad timing of their planting and the winter.  I'm sure that this spring's more normal rainfall has helped immensely.

Unfortunately, this spring's more normal rainfall has also given the weed population a good start...and I've found myself feeling the necessity of hand weeding much of our buffalo grass area.

It's not that the buffalo grass won't make it just fine, as long as we don't water or fertilize.  Sooner or later, with no supplemental care other than mowing when the weeds get too high, the buffalo grass should triumph.  It's just that I want it to fill in as well and as soon as possible, because the areas we plugged are right by the house.

So I've been sitting on my rear end, hand pulling henbit and assorted other weeds for several hours a day over the last week or so.  (This is, by the way, too much weeding even for me, despite my like of the process!)  I thought I'd share a little of what I've been seeing as I weed, though, and in the process maybe encourage a few other hardy souls to resist the blandishments of the weed killers so sweetly advertised on television.

As I weed, I work on one small area at a time - about 30 inches by 30 inches.  Here is a shot of one such area as I'm about to begin weeding.  Note that there is a little area already done on the lower right-hand side of the photo.

As I carefully pull out the henbit and other weeds, usually slicing off the roots just below the surface, I start seeing some of this area's inhabitants.  Here is one of the 7 earthworms that were disturbed by my efforts in this little patch.  (Note:  I rarely hurt an earthworm because I'm not digging deeply, but the noise of the roots being disturbed must bother them, because they come to the surface regularly and try to glide away.)

Here is a ladybug beetle pupa, attached to a henbit leaf.  (After taking this photo, I put the leaf and the attached pupa into another area of the lawn, where it hopefully wouldn't be disturbed.)

One thing that has really surprised me as I've worked is all of the ladybug beetle larvae I've been seeing. If you look closely, here is one (almost in the center of the photo) trying to escape to calmer ground....

The earthworms and ladybug beetles are positive findings;  I'm also finding quite a few caterpillars.  Some are inchworms, many (I suspect) are cutworms.  The individual below is one such suspect.  That said, the individuals that I think are cutworms seem to be curled up around or near the henbit, not the grass.  And I see absolutely no sign of damage anywhere from their presence.

In the long run, I'm not too worried about their presence, because my experience leads me to believe that their predator will come - whether that's a bird, scrounging for food to feed its young, a predatory wasp, or even a mole.  Sometimes you have to let a population of prey build up enough to attract in its predator(s).

When I got done weeding this little patch (and I didn't think to time myself, so I don't know how long it took), here is what it looked like.  The buffalo plugs are the fine-leafed, lighter green grass;  the big, thick, dark clumps are leftover fescue.  I really ought to be weeding those out too, but Greg wants to leave them in and see how they do compared to the buffalo.

After this experience, though, I would highly recommend against any attempt to jointly grow buffalo grass and fescue - they are just too different in appearance to gracefully co-habitate.  Truthfully, the combination of the two looks ratty at best.

The last shot to share is this picture of a solitary bee hole, an earthworm and the weeding tool I like best.  I've wondered what these perfectly round, little holes in the ground were from and, after all the research I did last year on solitary bees, now I know!  It's great to think that I have such a thriving population of native pollinators living so unobtrusively in my (soon-to-be) lawn!

So, after this spring's weeding and last summer's plugging and watering, what conclusions have I come to about putting in a buffalo grass lawn?  It's a little early yet but, as of right now, my biggest regret is not hiring some young, healthy landscaper type last summer to plug it all in for us at one time.   Not only would that have saved us a lot of time, sweat and knee pain, it would have gotten the plugs in the ground while they were still in their prime.  By the time the plugs in the area I'm currently weeding were put in, they were at least half dead from being in a flat for almost 2 months - no matter how much I watered, I couldn't seem to keep enough water on them to keep them healthy.  It's truly amazing to me that the buffalo grass in the front lawn survived at all!


~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

You have good eyes finding all those little creatures. Weeding can be interesting. Sometimes, I go about it way to quickly yanking this or that in an area. The plugs you have look healthy. I hope they fill in for you. If the buffalo spreads by runners, can you sprinkle a little straw or some light mulch around them to keep the weed seeds from germinating?

HilltopPrairie said...

I'm a handweeding addict myself! I sit on a bucket or little plastic butt chair (found at Lowe's) and just pull, pull, dig, pull, dig. It's meditation. And, I'm also finding crawlers and critters -- thanks for naming them for me so now I know who is what!

I put in some buffalo grass plugs two weeks ago into some areas that were more weeds than native buffalo grass -- and it was hard work. The plugs don't look very happy either. So now I'm doubling down efforts to help our native patches of BG reseed themselves, and anything that pops up above the BG gets hand-pulled.

Melanie said...

I am generally a hand weeder too. .my meditation though comes from watering. I love to handwater new starts or moisture loving pots in the evenings. .it's quiet. .and sometimes still. .and REALLY good for the soul.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Hilltop Prairie, I find weeding meditative, too. Good luck with your buffalo grass - I'm sure it will start to pick up strength and speed as the summer weather arrives.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, I can understand the meditative effects of watering, too. It sounds like a great way to spend a summer evening!