Of weeds and weather
“It’s raining, it’s pouring …” The old nursery rhyme came to mind as I sat at my desk, watching the rain drip off the juniper and box elder trees. I could almost hear them sucking up the water. I could hear the Roaring Fork River running high. I wish I had finished my planting, maybe poked a few more sunflower and nasturtium seeds in here and there.The newly planted flowers and shrubs that received the benefit of our rainy week started life in the artificial environment of a greenhouse, with fluffy designer potting soil. You’d never guess it from the way they look now. They seem to be making themselves right at home. Rarely is the weather so perfect. When it doesn’t provide the right conditions for my new plants to flourish, it’s up to me to do it. I have a few rules, which increase the chances of success.Rule No. 1: Always, always, always, acclimate the plants. Gardeners call it “hardening off,” but it could just as well be called “toughening up.” I tote my plants in and out of shelter for three or four days, maybe a week, exposing them to larger doses of full sun every day. A good nursery might have done this before the sale (ask). Sometimes, instead of controlled exposure, I plant and then improvise a bit of shade, with floating row cover fabric. Practical maybe, but not a particularly attractive option. Shade plants just stay in the shade. While my plants are in transition, I am very particular about my other rule.Rule No. 2: Never, never, never let plants dry out completely. Mature plants will just suffer a setback, but freshly planted ones may never recover. If the clouds don’t deliver on schedule as desired, I lug around a watering can every day, doling out sips. It takes amazingly little water to nurse six-pack-sized plants through their most vulnerable stage. How can I tell when they have begun to feel comfortable? It’s no big secret when I’ve been paying attention. They will look fresh and sturdy, never limp, wilted or brown. There may even be a new leaf or two.Now that the sun is beaming on a sparkling garden that seems to have grown a mile overnight, look closely. The green is an infinity of different colors. The flowers pop out with a wonderful brilliance, like colored stars in a green sky. Look even more closely and you’ll notice that the rain and sunshine are impartial. Precious flower and despised weed alike are blessed.The day after a good rain is the absolute prime time to weed! Any gardener who doesn’t take advantage of it must be either at work or sick in bed. Weeds, which give you a good fight and must be pried laboriously out of dry ground with a weeding knife, can be eased out with a tug when it’s moist. If I grip the plant where the stem meets the root and pull slowly but steadily, with just the right amount of pressure, I can feel the moment when the roots let go of their hold. I can hear it! Anyone can get the hang of it with a little practice and a little patience.To me, all weeds are fun to pull when they slip out of the soil as easily as a banana slips out of its skin, but tap-rooted weeds like tumble mustard and salsify are particularly satisfying when their long, skinny “carrots” come out in one piece. No roots left behind means that the weed won’t regrow or make seeds, so there will be fewer weeds next year. Of course, no matter how diligent I am, lots of seeds arrive in my garden from the rest of the world. Any place the ground has been disturbed instantly becomes a weed farm, and my garden is merely top-quality disturbed ground.I learned to tell a flower from a weed in my mother’s garden. She taught me how to tell one seedling from another: spinach from dandelions, tomatoes from ragweed, grass from onions. When I could be trusted not to wipe out a prized lily or the summer savory, I was allowed to help with the weeding. She sent me out after every rain. I made friends with every plant in her garden. I didn’t know it then, but my passion for gardening was germinating.Danke, Mama! When I finally had the opportunity to make a garden of my own, I knew that weeds and flowers go hand in hand and both are ruled by weather – and by me! Paying attention to the weeds, I couldn’t help but pay attention to the landscape plants. And the plants continually reward me by telling me what they need in order to flourish. They’ll share their secrets with you, too, if you let them.Anna Naeser gardens in Basalt with her husband, Gerry, and dog Maggie, and she claims the weeds are gaining on her. Anna would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “Anna’s Garden” in the e-mail subject line.