Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I Won't Get Fooled Again...

Caution: no pretty pictures ahead, just lots of ugly ones

Last year in August I posted about a problem I was having with a thistle-like weed that kept coming back, no matter how many times I dug it out. You can read that post here. I had found some advice online that said if you let it start to flower, and then dig it out, you'll weaken it enough to kill it, so I decided to try that.

Bad move.

It never reached flowering stage, never produced anything that looked like a bud. It got taller, and when we got a frost in November, it died back. But then, over the course of the winter, it started to spread via runners.

Originally it was only on the left hand side of this path. But soon, it had traveled under the flagstones, popping up between them and on the right-hand side of the path.

Here it is coming up among the Pacific Coast iris growing on the far right-hand side.

I have lots of plans for changes I want to make to the garden this summer. I posted about the gravel garden here, and I have plenty of other work in the offing. But I knew I had to deal with this dang weed pronto, before it took over the entire bed, and then my entire garden. I had to put my other plans on a back burner.

So I started digging, and pulling up the flagstone pavers. I found a huge network of white spaghetti-like roots growing all over and under the pavers. There were even plants trying to come up underneath the flagstones.

After lots of digging

Weeds be gone, but lots of little white spaghetti-like roots remain to be sifted out of the soil

I had to dig up all the perennials growing in the area as well, check their roots for signs of the thistles, and store them temporarily in a plastic bin.

I stored many plants I dug up in this storage container

There was a thistle coming up at the edge of this Hosta. I had to wash the roots to separate them.

I set up a gardener's sieve and my wheelbarrow, and began sifting all the soil by hand, one shovelful at a time. The work gave me a new appreciation for the difficult life of a gold prospector.

My trusty tools -- wheelbarrow, gardener's sieve and spade

At the end of the first day's work, I had two wheelbarrow-loads of fluffy soil, a lot of rocks, and two five-gallon buckets of roots, debris, and tiny pebbles. Not to mention, hundreds of rescued earthworms.

Lovely pile of sifted soil

Some big ugly critter has been digging in the garden -- oh wait, that was me.

Two five-gallon buckets full of dirty pea gravel and other debris --  including several clumps of those nasty white spaghetti-like roots from the thistle, sifted out of the soil

At the end of Day Two:

The pile of sifted dirt gets bigger

There's nothing to do now but keep going, I sure hope it's worth it. The area is wet because I put the gardener's sieve between those rocks and washed the pea gravel and debris there.

Pot o' rocks -- a perennial crop around here

Pots o' little rocks

Debris and roots

At the end of four back-breaking days of sifting:

Ginormous pile of soil

I've never really been happy with the fact that this path only had five flagstones. One evening after work, Nigel and I stopped at Lowe's and bought a bunch more to make the path more substantial. I pushed and pulled the stones around to see if I could come up with a good layout. Even though the new flagstones are a different color, I made it work by alternating them.

This should work!

A nice clean space for the new layout

At first I wasn't sure what I was going to do with all those little pebbles and pea gravel-size stones that I had sifted out of the soil. Then I realized I could use them under the new flagstones. I had to take another day to sift through the gravel, thoroughly removing any more little pieces of root or anything that looked like it might one day want to grow up to become a weed.

Over the weekend I drafted Nigel to move the flagstones into their final spots.

Ta Da!

Re-newed path

The fluffy soil will need some moisture to pack down again. We've already used the new path to move a couple of wheelbarrow-loads of compost, and it works great. 

That stupid thistle better not show its face here again. If it does, I doubt I'll be able to kill it with a dirty look. I may have to get out the big guns, like Roundup, which I've never used.

And replant! But first I have a date with a big bottle of ibuprofen.


  1. I hope you got it all...and the path looks fab.

  2. OMG--you really went full-on nuclear on that thistle, didn't you?! It's a bad weed. I double-dug three times in a row last year, removing any scrap of root I found. I still didn't get it all--I saw a new start coming. I wish I'd sieved the soil as you did!

  3. Big job but it'll all be worth it as you sit back and relax later on looking at your thistle free area.

  4. Ugh! You've just ignited memories of the great bishops weed battle a couple of years ago. I did pretty much the same thing, only in an area 3x as large. You were smart to just stop everything and get on it.

  5. What a battle you fought, Alison! I hope you won the war! It looks great.

  6. Gold prospectors got nothing on us gardeners. Well done, my friend.

  7. Whoa! I don't envy the task...but I do admire your determination!

  8. Wow, what effort! Your flagstones look great. When we moved into our 2 acres enormous patches of Canadian thistles would come up. I pulled, blanketed the ground, etc. and now it's just scattered ones coming up but a perpetual battle. One gardener told me if you pulled the same plant/root system up 7 times you would defeat it. so I just keep pulling them up, and I try very hard not to let any go to seed. But I discovered that the flowers are very fragrant, even have been used to make perfume, so there is always a silver lining somewhere.

  9. This upset me so badly that I had to look at yesterday's pretty post again -- after I admired the newly set flagstones.

  10. Goodness you have grit! Impressive undertaking and you are rewarded with such a beautiful new pathway and clean...thistle free soil!!

  11. Mercy, Alison, what an ordeal! I know you're glad that's done.

  12. You are amazing and your new flagstone path is gorgeous. I'm in awe of all that work. You might want to wash those ibuprofin down with a big bottle of something else!

  13. Any thistle in its right mind wouldn't dare take root in your garden! You said no pretty pictures but I daresay that last one is fantastic. And fresh dirt means space for plants! Have fun.

  14. Oh boy do I feel your pain! I wouldn't blame you a bit if you had to call out the big guns if you saw it coming back. That's what is going to happen with any arum lilies or brazen hussies I see. I find more daily and will continue to wage war until I have won. Your efforts look really great and I'm betting your hard work pays off. Happy gardening!

  15. What a nightmare!!!!! Ugh. I would have thrown down a layer of newspaper before piling all the pretty dirt back in. Just to be safe. :) I don't envy the work it took to get there, but it looks so tidy and fresh. The lawn in the background looks so healthy, too!

  16. Wow - you did a fantastic job! Heroic, in fact. The new path looks beautiful - well done! I'll ditto what Peter said - wash those ibuprofens down with some Champagne!

  17. That was a very thorough job of weed eradication. I don't know that my thistle knowledge includes one that runs like yours did. What a thug!
    I just started removing a runaway patch of variegated Bishop's Weed, which we actually planted. I do love the color and texture of the plant, but the runners are awful. I doubt I will be as thorough as you, but then I am not above painting the leaves of whatever remains with Roundup.

  18. Your new path is wonderful, but what a lot of effort went into it. You certainly did a thorough job, I'd be surprised to see an thistle daring to start growing there again!

  19. I attacked my old garden like that, sifting and removing weeds and grass, but here the soil is heavy sifting unfortunately and weeds hold on for dear life...I love how your bed and new path came out.


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