- Author: Karen Metz
In Spring of 2016, after multiple years of drought, my husband and I decided it was time for a change in our front yard. Because of the watering restrictions, the lawn was brown, weed infested and basically dead. We were ready to remove the lawn and replace it with drought tolerant plants. The soil in between the plants was covered with weed fabric and several inches of brown bark mulch.
In addition to decreasing our water use, another goal was to have plant combinations that would give us blossoms or other features of interest for each season. Our choices included: Euryops, Euphorbia characias 'Shorty', Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt', Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Dwarf Plumbago), Ceanothus griseus horizantalis (Carmel Creeper), Agave mutifilera 'Cardos Compacta', Perovskia atiplicifolia (Russian Sage), and two varieties of Festuca.
We have been very pleased with how the landscape turned out. In the last few years, the plants have really matured and become quite beautiful. With this growth and maturity have come new challenges. Initially, we hand-weeded without too much difficulty. This year we noticed a huge increase in the early spring weeds. Part of this was due to the wonderful rains we've had this rainy season, but there was another culprit.
Euphorbia characias 'Shorty' has beautiful clusters of brilliant lime green flowers that rise above this blue-green dome-shaped plant. According to Sunset Western Garden Book the fruit of these pollinated flowers is a capsule that dries and then explodes the seeds off to a distance of several feet.
Each of our plants was surrounded by 70 to 100 seedlings. If we were going to maintain the balance of our landscape, these seedlings had to be removed. I was also very aware that several species in the Euphorbia genus are actual weeds! And in addition to these seedlings, we had the usual other annual weeds to deal with like Poa annua (Annual bluegrass) and others.
Now there was good news. Most of these weeds and seedlings were shallow rooted thanks to the weed fabric and mulch. But still, the thought of getting down on my hands and knees for hours or days was making my wrist and back ache just thinking about it. I wasn't interested in trying to spray with an herbicide, as I generally try to avoid these and I didn't think it would be possible to spray the seedlings without harming the rest of the landscape plants.
As I was trying to figure out what to do my mind flashed on a garden hoe. I knew it was used to weed annual weeds between furrows in a vegetable garden, but would it work here on a mulched slope? The only thing I had really ever used my hoe for was leveling off the soil in a raised bed.
Now, it turns out there are several different kinds of hoes. There are long and short-handled hoes. There are draw hoes that you pull towards you and there are scuffling hoes that are sharp on both sides which are used with a back and forth motion. Well, I only had one kind of a hoe, the basic garden hoe with a long handle and a rectangular blade attached at about a 90-degree angle to the shaft.
I decided to give it a try. I had to work carefully and slowly as I didn't want to slice through or pull out any of the drip irrigation system that serves the front yard. I also really watched my body position as I worked, to avoid putting too much strain on my back.
Some of the seedlings came up easily as I pulled the blade through the bark mulch. Others required several passes from different directions. I did this on a sunny day so, as I severed the seedlings, I knew they would dry up quickly.
I finished the job in about an hour. Considering this was my first time to try this, I thought that wasn't too bad. It sure beats the time it would have taken to hand weed. Now, this technique does not work as well on perennial weeds with long roots. When I came to those, I dug them out by hand. Also, the hoeing will need to be repeated every few weeks this spring as new seeds germinate, but that would have been true for hand pulling them as well. All in all, I was really pleased with the results.