almost useless weeding advice

I’m sure you’ve read those earnest but wacked letters sent to advice columns, letters where the writer wants to share a piece of housekeeping ingenuity that you look at and find yourself gobsmacked by the total uselessness of the advice being offered. These letters might begin something like, “Dear Heloise, you know, I never throw out corn tassels anymore because I realized that I could use them to make wigs for my pet iguana…” (I might be making this one up. Maybe not. It doesn’t really matter.)

Both John and I had read in one of the papers a while back that you could use boiling water to control weeds. Inspired one day after making a pot of pasta, remembering what he’d read, John drained the pasta water out onto some weeds that were growing in the cracks out on the patio. Not long afterwards the weeds croaked. Somehow it all seemed to make sense.

So…at the risk of sounding too much like like Heloise…I pass on this piece of gardening advice.

You’ll have to think this method through a little before applying it to many situations in the garden. This works if you want to kill everything, like in the middle of hardscape, but probably isn’t a good idea if there might be roots of a desirable plant nearby. Also, it really does take a lot of boiling water to polish off some stubborn plants. It’s not a particularly effective or method. If you salt your pasta water to the point of seawater you might not want to introduce all the salts near fragile plants. And the hot water might even stimulate some dormant seeds into growth, since the method is almost exactly the “hot water method” that’s referred to in manuals on seed propagation.

Still, if you find yourself with a big pot of boiling water that you’d otherwise dump down the drain and have a patio full of weeds nearby, this might be just the thing to do.

While out weeding I’ve been noticing that some of the plants growing up in the cracks aren’t the standard nasty beasties that have been plaguing me over the years. These are in fact some California natives, seedlings of parents I’ve planted in the garden in places where I wanted them. The seedlings are trying to start up a new generation in places where I really don’t want them, but I’m having a hard time pulling them out.

This one’s Clarkia rubi­cunda ssp. blas­dalei. I think I’ll let it flower before removing the plant. It’s an annual, besides, so I should be able to indulge it for a month longer, to let it fulfill its biological destiny.

San Miguel Island buckwheat, Eriogonum grande var. rubescens, one of several I’ve noticed recently. I like the plant, but I’m afraid its choice of location sucks. I think I’ll be able to pull it out soon.

California sagebrush, Artemisia californica. I really hate to pull up anything with a species name of “californica,” but once again its choice of location totally sucks. So far–for over a year now–it’s avoided getting doused with pasta water or getting yanked out of the ground. But a plant in the wrong place is a plant in the wrong place.

I have to admit it. This plant, in this spot, is a weed.

16 thoughts on “almost useless weeding advice”

  1. I tried the boiling water once. I found it takes a lot of boiling water too. I hadn’t thought of it potentially germinating seeds.
    I find that buckwheats always self sow in the middle of paths and hardscape and never where I would want them. I’ve transplanted them with success, though, so I guess it’s okay.

  2. The photos of weeds/seedlings growing up through the patio cracks reminds me of the summer I watched ants carrying away Datura seeds that had fallen on the patio. The next summer I had the most amazing crop of little Datura seedlings coming up between the cracks. Unfortunately the growing season wasn’t long enough for them to actually mature and flower.

  3. good to know you tested the boiling water theory. i tried vinegar (on weeds growing on top of my decomposed granite–sneaky aren’t they?), but it rained that same night. a lot of thankless spritzing for nothing. next time–they get the hot water treatment!

  4. I now have visions of gardeners across the globe being treated in the emergency room for scalds 😉 Seriously though, sounds like a good idea. It also reminded me that many years ago when we first replaced the “lawn” with gravel and the pond, I bought a weed wand – one of those tame flame-throwers on a stick. Never used it. Weeds that do turn up are invariably too close to things I want to keep. I think the problem I have with denying successful seedlings a chance to be potted up (and hence I run out of pots and space and sanity) is the same problem I have in removing self-sown seedlings from plants I like, even when they are in ridiculous places and I know it would be easier to yank them out when they are tiny. But part of me wants to see what will happen… If you find a cure please let me know!

  5. As long as you have the pot of water to pour out, guess it’s worth a try. I don’t think I’d go out of my way, though, to boil weed water.
    We got a flamer that I’d like to try if propane goes down in price.
    Totally off topic, but have you heard about the coupon for a gallon of gas….it’s called a five dollar bill.

    Brent, you are too funny!

  6. @Brent: Large amounts of boiling water can kill a wedding too.

    I understand your not wanting to pull some of the natives, but sometimes they just can’t be left. I’ve unfortunately pulled many oak seedlings, some growing inches from a wall, from in between bricks, in the middle of my veggie bed. It seems cruel at the time, but it would just be sad and probably die later anyway.

  7. Our pooch’s dog run is getting overrun by weeds, and that’s because: 1. I don’t want to use any chemicals that may harm her, and 2. I’ve been too busy to do any manual weeding (I know, what a negligent pet parent I am :<). After reading your post, I broke out the humungous tamale pot, boiled a ton of really, really hot water, then hauled the cauldron down to smite the offending herbage. Now, just hoping it works. I had briefly considered the flamethrower method, but didn't want to end up on the evening news…

  8. Katie, I’m glad it helped!

    Ryan, I have lots of buckwheats seedlings in other spots of the garden, but I haven’t tried to transplant them yet. Even if I don’t have space for more plants I’m sure the local CNPS plant sale could use them.

    Loree, too bad your weather got cold before you had a chance to see your seedlings mature. There’s a patch of daturas behind the house, but so far the seed hasn’t migrated to the patios yet. They grow so big that I’d worry they’d take over the entire hardscape since the winter wouldn’t take them down like in Portland.

    Maggie, thanks for the Gillman book idea. I haven’t read it, but it sounds like it’d be a good one for the bookshelf. I just had a discussion over the weekend with someone about using flamethrowers for weeding–something I actually saw in Idaho while on a vacation.

    Brent, hmmm, wedding advice…a new direction for the blog…

    Laguna, vinegar? Never tried it, but it sounds like it might stand a chance of working. I definitely won’t be trying my good balsamico de Modena on the weeds, but the basic apple cider stuff is cheap enough.

    Janet, a few years back I did try a propane soldering torch on some ivy that was driving me to distraction. I even did a post on it at the time. But as I said in the post–and as was your experience–the thought of igniting something important nearby stopped me from using it much. People swear by them, however.

    Skeeter, interesting that you’ve tried them on ant mounds. I did try that on some mounds that have entrance tunnels in the patio. It’s been ant-free for a few days. I hope it stays that way.

    Manic, I’ll probably doing it the old fashioned way with my bare grass-stained hands. The tiny seedlings will be easier than the ones I’ve let get to some size.

    Sue, love your comment on the gas coupon! I’m not sure what it is up in the mountains, but there’s a 76 station a couple miles away that has regular for $5.05 a gallon, but with a 16 cent (not percent) discount if you buy a car wash. How can anyone pass up that deal?

    Brad, like you said, I doubt most of the seedlings would survive once the underlying soil dries out over the summer. The sagebrush did hang on over the summer, but it’s probably better adapted than most of the others. And maybe that says something about the potential for damage from its roots if I let it get even larger.

    Arleen, I so totally get the not getting to weeding part of life. This years seems like I’ve neglected things more than usual. Good luck with the hot water treatment on the dog run. At least if it doesn’t work the treatment won’t hurt Hana.

    EE, that’s a weird one. I got the same result myself, with the advertizing heading up a link that actually goes to my blog. Very rude and creepy. I checked all my content and comments, including the raw HTML that’s sent out, and the only sign of tramodol was in your comment. At this point all I can conclude is that big pharma has more bucks than I do to elevate my Google ranking. But I’ll keep researching. I don’t like this at all.

  9. I think I’m unusual in being fairly ruthless about pulling up plants. Maybe because I have more plants sitting around waiting to go into the ground than I have room for. I’m like an overbooked hotel, so figure there’s always another guest waiting to take up the slack.

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