Not all garden chores are created equal, but many are enjoyable on some level, even if they’re grunt work. For instance, I don’t really mind digging out blackberries. Carefully using the pruners to grab the stems, disentangling them from nearby plants, chopping them into pieces that fit into yard debris bag. It’s mindless and meditative and satisfying to see your progress. And then there are the chores that just suck. For instance, the weedy bulbs, like the Hyacinthoides in the photo above by James Petts. I have Hyacinthoides, but they’re not as big a problem as my Star of Bethlehem, wild onion, and wild garlic. Mix those all together and you’ve got yourself a garden monster.
It is soooooo hard to take the advice of waiting and watching for a year after moving into a new garden. Knowing what I know now, I’d probably still make some of the same mistakes I made 15 years ago. If you move into a garden that doesn’t reflect your gardening style, you know there are certain plants you’ll never learn to love, although some might surprise you if you give them time. But the restraint it would take not to plant what you know you can’t live without, I honestly don’t know if I have it in me.
If I could point to my single largest mistake that I vow to never make again, it was failing to recognize the problem of invasives lurking in my soil. I was so new to gardening, I didn’t even know what I was looking at when my shovel would strike these tight clumps of bulbs. I remember wondering if they were frog eggs.
At some point I realized they were plants, and I thought, well, dividing them will surely be good for them, they’re probably pretty. I ordered loads and loads of compost to make my cement-like compacted soil more hospitable, and went about diligently hand digging the other weeds, breaking up the soil and turning in the compost with my digging fork. If you have dealt with any of these problem bulbs, you are probably cringing right now. That was my single biggest garden mistake of my life.
Had I waited a season, the bulbs may have remained in clumps which could be extracted in a big ball of compacted soil, and safely tossed in a dropbox and hauled away. But because I distributed them by turning the soil, they were everywhere, like turf grass. Growing up into everything new I had planted. And the solution, sadly, still was digging them up, including a big protective clump of surrounding soil. Unfortunately, the surrounding soil was redefined as the entire back yard.
After years of work, the infested area has shrunk, but it’s still an overwhelming task I dread every year. When the bulbs leaf out in winter, the digging can begin. And when they disappear in summer, there’s no good way of knowing where they are, so I to avoid the infested areas until next year, when I can tell where more digging is needed. Annuals are the only good planting option here, but then the dilemma is, do I add compost to improve the soil conditions and grow happier plants, only to have to dig it out again next year when the bulbs return? It’s back breaking work, and I have the chiropractor bills to prove it.
I don’t even want to know how many tons of soil have been hauled away over the years. In previous years, I would pick a week, take some vacation, go get “no parking” signs from the city to claim some space on the street for the box and the delivery truck, rent a dropbox, set up a 2 X 10 as a ramp, and trot back and forth, back and forth with wheelbarrow loads until the dropbox could hold no more, then send it off, and go hobbling inside to lie on an ice pack. Up and down that ramp was a killer. And because the dropbox rental price depends on how long you keep the box, it was a race with time to keep the costs from skyrocketing.
Luckily, over the last couple years, I found a new option. It’s called The Bagster. It’s like a tarp sewn into dumpster shape. I cannot say it’s made the task pleasant, because I will be so glad when this phase of my gardening life is in the rear-view mirror, but it has helped in many ways.
- You can order online or pick up the bag for about $30 and store it until you’re ready to deal with it
- You can set it up and gradually fill it without the pressure of mounting rental fees
- You can set it up in your yard or driveway so long as it’s within 16′ of the street, which is helpful if your neighborhood parking-challenged like mine (no more permitting to block off the street!)
- You call and schedule pick up when you’re ready to send it away
- The hauling cost in my case was about $140, which is a fraction of the dropbox rental price
- You can fill it with lots of kinds of debris, and happy for me, they accept mixed debris including dirt and rocks (not all dropboxes do)
This has really changed the pace of this grueling chore. I can take breaks if it’s too hot or too rainy or my back starts to complain. I can keep it a bagster on hand to get the chore started whenever the whim strikes. And I can dump my wheelbarrow loads over the sides of the bag rather than teetering up that scary little ramp into the metal dropbox.
Just as it is hard to tell kids not to repeat the mistakes you made in your youth, it is hard to convince new gardeners not to repeat your mistakes. My neighbors last year brought in help to clear their yard, which is plagued with many of the same weeds, naturally. Somehow they got the hyacinthoides and have been spared the Star of Bethlehem and wild onion and garlic, lucky them. They chopped down the chin-high blackberries and bind weed, tilled, mulched, and planted a big circle of lawn in the middle. It’s all so familiar, pretty much everything I tried when I moved in too. The plan worked for some of the weeds, but those bulbs are back with a vengeance. New neighbors on the other side have Bishop’s weed right on our property line, and are not yet convinced what a pest this is, and plan to till it under too. Scary stuff. Next year we can all have a digging party with our Bagsters.