The Best Way to Get Rid of Perennial Weeds in Your Yard (ft. Dandelions)

In all the gardening groups I am in, one thing that keeps popping up with everyone’s spring enthusiasm is How to get rid of weeds (usually dandelions).

You’ll see all kinds of recipes for “Natural” weed killers. Usually this is some variable ratio of Vinegar, Dish Soap and Epsom Salts. Vinegar will kill your weeds. It will also kill some beneficial life in your soil, and the weeds will come back, but the soil life won’t.

So my number one way to get rid of weeds in a yard… Elbow Grease and persistence. It is unlikely to be able to get out every piece of Dandelion root when you are pulling them from your yard. This is where the persistence part comes in. With our big human brains, opposable thumbs and muscles, I hope that we can be more stubborn than some kind of weed you don’t want in your yard. The longer you stick to this battle, the easier it gets over time. The energy in the roots, will allow the plant to re-grow, but the more you keep pulling them, the more energy is wasted from the root, and eventually there will be no root energy left to regrow from.

This chunk of root was over a foot long, and there is still a bit that broke off the bottom, so eventually another dandelion will pop this up in this spot.

Never let them (especially dandelions) go to seed. Pull as soon as you see those little leaves pop up, before they have a chance to start building that big tap root.

Grass – If you start getting grass (especially quack grass around here) in your flower beds. It is in your best interest to diligently dig every piece of grass root out of the soil. Any tiny piece of their roots that is left in the soil, will grow a whole new plant, and that will spread.

Elbow grease will always be your best battle against weeds. Weeds (especially annual weeds), tend to grow in open, disturbed soil, so try and keep your beds covered in some kind of mulch. Try and replicate a forest floor and use things that are going to add and support your soil life. The healthier your soil, the healthier your plants.

One note before I end this post. If you are trying to leave dandelions for the bees: Just get to them before they go to seed, as you may like the cheery yellow flowers, but the thousands and millions of seed that can spread from those dandelions – Not everyone likes them and they are scattered by the wind. But also know that there are plenty of other quality sources of pollen and nectar for the bees and pollinators.

One last note: I try to stick to natural methods in my own garden. But chemicals have a time and place. I think when they are overused and primarily misused, is when we have problems. I will definitely advocate elbow grease over chemicals 99% of the time, but I have used round up on invasive noxious weeds as required. At the end of the day, you get to choose what is right for you and your garden.

I have a Haskap problem

I have a problem in my own garden with my Haskaps (aka Honeyberries). I saved these plants from near death and one is untagged, I know they are from completely different breeding programs, . But that isn’t the problem. The problem is that they don’t bloom at the same time. Haskaps need to be pollinated by a different variety of haskap. You would have the same problem if you had 2 plants of the exact same variety. You just need a different set of genes, and they need to bloom at the same time. This is not that difficult if you are buying your haskap plants at the same time, as you can choose matching varieties. I just have a special case of rescue plants.

This one (above) I have planted by a Valiant Grape (that also hopefully survived winter), is pushing out leaves AND has buds already.

This one that I have by a ‘Firecracker’ Goji Berry and mystery raspberry, is just pushing out leaves. I actually have the tag for this one and it was a ‘Wojtek’, a Polish variety. Tag description picture below.

So what am I going to do to solve this? Because you need two Different varieties to be able to pollinate each other (neither is male or female, they just need some different genes added into the mix… Same as apples)

At my Dad’s house, I have a good mix of different varieties. I don’t know the names of all of them, because these were also all rescue plants, and not all of them had their tags left on them. We’ve gotten a decent amount of berries for the last couple years, and the plants are really starting to fill out and come into their own now. (I would add a photo of them here but they are a couple hours away from me, and I’ve put off posting this for a couple weeks now. Hopefully I can get a summer update posted about them later this year)

Back to my solution: I’m going to take cuttings from the plants at my Dad’s house and root them to plant here. This is not a quick solution. But it is essentially a free solution, which is my favorite kind. Plus I enjoy propagating plants and getting better at it each time.

I do really want to add in the newer ‘Boreal Beast’, ‘Boreal Beauty’ and ‘Boreal Blizzard’ to my collection. I believe they have been developed to have the largest and sweetest berries. So if I get the opportunity to get my hands on them, I will jump at it, for the right price.

Do you have any haskap questions? They are one of my favourite berries, and gaining popularity.

Ground Cover Raspberries

Something new for this year (for me anyway) are these Ground Cover Raspberries. They are classified as Zone 1, and also referred to as Arctic Raspberries or Nagoonberry . They are thornless! So a plus with those with small kids and those of us who don’t like wearing gloves while gardening. They only grow about 5-6 inches tall and spread rhizomes out to eventually make a thick mat. Fall colour is said to be dark red and burgundy, which is always ideal in my world where most of our native plants turn only yellow in the fall. It’s nice to have some variety of fall interest around here.

You also need two different plants to get cross pollination in order to get fruit. This is why I have “Anna” and “Valentina”. These are the only two that I have seen commercially available here. Apparently there are 2 called “Beta” and “Sophia” that were developed in Sweden at the Balsgard Fruit Breeding Institute. Hopefully over the next few years, more varieties become available. I think these could be a great addition to our typically small yards here, especially in difficult areas of our gardens, and those of us who want to grow at least a tiny portion of our own food.

I have planted them about 18″ apart under my ‘Honey Queen’ and ‘Double Delight’ Raspberries. Ideally, they will provide a natural groundcover/mulch for the “regular” raspberries. I will also be dotting in a few ‘Albion’ strawberry (everbearing) crowns in this same area.

In the winter, I will likely cover them with leaves from the massive poplar tree in the front yard, to help give some winter protection, although, with these being a Zone 1, I doubt they will NEED it, but I’m sure they will appreciate it. The leaves also help to keep some moisture in the soil as we get massive temperature fluctuations during chinooks in the winter.

As you can see, they have pink blooms that are quite ornamental. These turn to dark red berries. I’ll try and keep you in the loop on how these do this year. I’m not too concerned about how they will survive winter, as they have all season to grow good roots, and they are Zone 1.

Potatoes I’m growing this year (2022)

Since I am trying to simplify my gardening for later of this summer (we have some big things happening), but I still want to grow at least some of our food… enter Potatoes.

I will be growing these in old tree pots (10-15 gallon size). So there will be no digging to do when I likely won’t be able to dig anything. All I will have to do is reach into the soil at a much more manageable level, or get my husband to dump the pots out for me so I can get the treasure out much easier.

While I want to grow all the different, more “weird” varieties all the time, this year, I am just keeping it pretty simple. There are still 4 different varieties I have chosen, but they are generally pretty main-stream.

Yukon Gold

  • Yellow Skin, Yellow Flesh
  • Pretty popular, standard multi-purpose potato.
  • Registered in 1980, but took 66 crosses of different potatoes over 30 years of breeding to get it to where is is.
    • A google search on “Yukon Gold Potato” brings up a ton of history and variety of information so I’m not going to regurgitate it here.
  • 60-80 days to harvest
  • Early to Mid-Season / Determinate

Chieftain

  • Red Skin, White Flesh
  • Bred in Iowa by A.E. Kehr in 1957, and selected by the Horticulture Department at the University of Iowa. Developed and released in 1966. Registered in Canada in 1973
  • 80-100 days to harvest
  • Mid-Season / Determinate

Warba

  • White Skin, White Flesh, pink/red eyes
  • Bred at the Minnesota Agriculture Experimental Station at St. Paul Minnesota in 1927
  • 75 days to harvest
  • Very Early Season / Determinate

Alaska Bloom

  • White Skin, White Flesh, pink/red eyes – (Looks very similar to Warba)
  • This variety originated from a cross made at the AFBI breeding station in Loughgall, Co. Armagh, UK in 1996.
  • Mid-Season – 90-105 days to harvest
  • I grew this one last year and it was one of the best performers through my neglect during the heat wave we had. Originally I was just going to stick to the 3 varieties above, since they came in a bulk pack all together, but when I saw these, I knew I had to add them back again this year.

Determinate vs Indeterminate Potatoes – This system of classifying potatoes isn’t terribly reliable, (the “season” measuring system is much better at classifying potatoes) but I do see it gaining traction in some of the gardening groups I am in, so I wanted to address it. The reason it is hard to find out what type each potato variety is, is due to this not being the most reliably consistent classification. If I get a chance, I would like to do a more in-depth post on this all on its own. Until I get to that post, here is a basic differentiation between indeterminate and determinate:

  • Indeterminate Potatoes are said to be more ideal for container growing, for when you want to keep adding soil to the pot as the potato grows up. Generally, Indeterminate types are long season types, and they take longer to mature before your potatoes are ready.
  • Determinate Potatoes are more ideal for short growing season, and those without a ton of space to grow in. Generally, these are short season types and have more quick maturing tubers.

If you want a good basic deep dive on growing potatoes, especially in a colder climate, check out this article on the Alaska Master Gardener Blog.

I planted my potatoes on May 3, in 15 gallon tree pots. I got 2 pots of each variety. With 8 pots of potatoes, this should be enough potatoes to get us to around Christmas, unless the harvest ends up being terrible. Someday I will have a big row of potatoes in an even bigger garden, but for now, this is making use of a space that otherwise is just a weedy mess.

Beginner Gardening Tips

One of the most common questions I get at my garden center job, is

“I’m new to this, how do I keep this thing alive.”

Plants, like other living things, need just a few basic things and it is honestly best to not over complicate it as you start out. Sun, Water and Soil are your main concerns. If you have any questions, throw them down in the comments and I’ll do my best to try and help you out.

Late summer evening sun on one of my Veronica Plants.

Lets talk about Sun first:

Pretty much every plant you buy (with maybe the exception of tropical house plants) will come with a tag that tells you what sun requirements your new plant will need. But know there is always some wiggle room with this. Lilacs are said to need full sun, but I have one that gets only dappled sun and is basically in shade for most of the day. It doesn’t bloom like it would in the full sun, but it hides an ugly corner of the yard with beautiful foliage and occasional blooms.

Learn your space and where the sun hits. This is going to change throughout the year, especially the more north you get. Look into trees or buildings that are going to cast shade, and try and learn how long the area is in shade.

One of the most beautiful tomatoes I have ever grown. This was a Tasmanian Chocolate from a couple years ago. In the background you can see my ever growing plant addiction..

Water

Think about how you are going to water your plants. Or If they actually NEED to be watered. If you don’t want to have to water your plants (you may need to as they are establishing themselves in their new homes), look into native (to your area) plants and do some research into xeriscaping. Or if it is just the act of watering that you are hoping to avoid, look into setting up drip irrigation. Personally, watering is one of my favorite Zen-type activities and while I like the convenience aspect of irrigation, I look at watering as some time to just zone out and clear my head.

Look for big trees and other established plantings that will steal water from the new plants. Big culprits in our area are Spruce and Poplar trees.

Another thing to look at, is more wet areas; places where water might gather or pool, or otherwise just naturally occur. For ground like this, you want to choose plants that can handle the extra water. Your local garden center can usually help you chose appropriate plants for really wet areas. The easiest solution I can mention right now is Willows, there is a wide variety of them (and not all of them like to have “wet feet”).

Healthy Mycorrhizae network in my soil… This is a great thing to see.

Soil

Soil can get really complicated and I could honestly talk all day about building soil, it is a fascinating aspect, but in the interest of keeping this simple, I am just going to touch the basics. Different areas have different soil. Around Calgary, we typically have alkaline, clay based soils. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but you do need to chose plants that can thrive in this environment as you build up your soil. A lot of people think that scraping the natural top soil away and bringing in completely new soil will fix this. It is a temporary solution to the ph and clay, but will actually cause more problems in the long run. Your best bet is to add compost and organic matter and gradually build up the soil to something more conducive to the life it will be supporting. I would also suggest looking at the benefits of the type of soil you have as well. We tend to focus on the problems of clay, but it also holds a bunch of nutrients. Learning about the merits of the base soil you have instead of just focusing on the problems will help you as you build the soil up and help return life back to it.

Wet heavy snow falling.

One last topic I want to quickly touch on is Zone. A lot of people tend to focus on only growing plants that are rated for their zone. Which is a mostly safe bet. But if you aren’t meeting the basic needs of the plant to begin with, it might not thrive regardless of it being super cold hardy. With new plants, growers tend to not be very generous in their zoning as well. There are plenty of ways you can “extend” your zone if you want to try something borderline as well.

Like I said above, if you have any questions, Pop them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help.