Sow There!: Weeds won’t wait, and neither should you 1-18-2018

Sow There!: Weeds won’t wait, and neither should you

Even in winter yard work must be done when weeds start popping up.
Even in winter yard work must be done when weeds start popping up. Photo by Heather Hacking

Some might consider mid-January as the “dead of winter.” Yet, if you take a quick look outside you’ll see that idea would be dead wrong. Each day the garden is waking up, stretching slowly with a chilled yawn.

In early fall, I plant poppy seeds in the cracks in the pavement in my alley. The cars roll over many, but enough survive and bloom that I continue the ritual. The seeds are dirt cheap when bought in bulk at Northern Star Mills on The Esplanade. When I get the itch to hope something will grow, I’ll scatter the poppies like bird seed or toss them into the unattended yard next door.

The seeds in my alley sprouted, but remained about an inch long for weeks and weeks, like stubble on a shaggy Santa Cruz surfer’s chin. One day I noticed the overcrowded plants had taken a growth spurt.

Was it the equinox? Did my seedlings have a mysterious inner alarm that buzzed on Dec. 21?

“Get up. Wake up. Get moving.”

Maybe poppies are like migratory birds, triggered by a certain turn of the earth and mysterious magnetic fields. All I know is that one day the poppies were an inch long, and then they seemed to grow an inch each day.

Poppies are wildflowers. Wildflower is another word for weed, depending on whether the plant grows in your yard vs. Table Mountain.


The thing is, when the plants begin to wake up, gardeners need to stop binge-watching the Cable Girls and get busy.

Many garden magazines print garden-to-do lists with tasks listed month-by-month. I’m here to share the gardener’s “hurry-up-and-do list.” December, for example, is just about the latest you should plant spring-blooming. I scrambled to get those bulbs into pots on New Year’s Eve. They were sprouting in the bag. If I had waited any longer they might have sent roots into the floorboards near my TV.

The end of January is also just about the latest you should prune roses, and I’ll get to that after I put away my Christmas decorations.

Snipping grape vines is another job before the end of this month. I’m proud to say I clipped the climbers earlier this year. However, I’m certain I did not know what I was doing.


Meanwhile, I’m busy picking weeds.

Thanks to the poppies, I’m looking more closely at all things green and bountiful. The wheat at the Patrick Ranch along the Midway has punched through the tough brown clods of earth. Almond buds are swelling. The bulbs I planted “last year” are starting to grow in pots outdoors.

If poppies are awake, that means other weeds are also hidden in plain view.

I see common groundsel starting to bud near line of the fence. Groundsel is one of my least favorite weeds, and blooms faster than I am able to locate my hoe under a pile of winter leaves. If you wait until spring to yank groundsel, the plants will have scattered enough seeds to cover all the terrain in the Avenues.

I don’t know about you, but I’m stepping up my weed-yanking game.

Yard work also burns calories. I ate so much chocolate this winter, I should volunteer to yank weeds for all of my neighbors. In fact, I ate so much chocolate “last year,” I should volunteer to clean out all the rain gutters for every house along The Esplanade.

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