Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The wonderful world of weeds

Last spring, our first spring here in our new home, we noticed a lot of thistles growing. Nasty things, thistles.

So I started digging them up using a hand weeding tool. It's laborious on-your-knees work, and it was also an exercise in futility. There were zillions of thistles scattered hither and yon. Trying to lever them out of the ground one by one was impossible. We didn't want to go around spraying poison, but I can certainly understand why people do.

It wasn't just thistles. Having now completed an entire growing season, we discovered the horrors of hound's tongue. Not only does this plant have nasty burrs that take great delight in leaping across the space-time continuum for the simple pleasure of clogging one's socks or matting a dog's fur, but the leaves are poisonous to livestock as well. ("Ingestion can cause severe illness and possibly death in horses, swine, and cattle. The alkaloids are potent liver toxins that under some conditions can be carcinogenic...")

Here's a close-up of the hound's tongue nutlets, not yet dried out. Nasty, aren't they?

So weed control is on our radar.

Last May, rather impulsively, we purchased a four-claw stand-up weed puller made by Fiskars (a brand associated with high-quality scissors). To be honest, I didn't have a lot of hope for this product, but I was anxious to tackle the thistles, and at $56, it wasn't going to break the bank.

Their product description seemed ideal for what we needed: "The Fiskars® stand-up weeder makes it easy to permanently remove invasive plants without sore knees from kneeling, back ache from bending or harsh, costly chemical herbicides that need to be applied multiple times. Just place the head over a weed, step down on the reinforced foot platform, and the four serrated, stainless-steel claws will grab the weed by the root for clean removal. An offset hand reduces wrist strain, a viewing window in the pedal makes claw placement mistake-free, and an easy-eject mechanism clears the head between uses for quick and easy cleanup."

Here's the foot-pedal and the claws.

You can see how the claws are serrated.

Simply put, the claws grab the plant at the base, and the foot platform levers the plant out by the roots. Sounds simple. But does it work?

Yes. In fact, it works phenomenally well.

Here's the process. Place the claws over the center of the weed:

Step on the foot pedal to make sure the claws are as far down as they can go:

Then lever back and let the weed puller pull the weed.

VoilĂ . Notice the taproots? This thistle isn't growing back.

This is the gizmo to eject the weed from the claws:

Using this tool is actually quite fun, and it's immensely satisfying ("Die, hound's tongue, DIE!!") to pull up a noxious weed and see the long taproot follow.

Here's some young hound's tongue:

Moments later, it's out of the ground.

Here's another one:

Take a gander at that taproot:

And here's a nice fat thistle that met its demise. Again, notice the taproot:

It even works on young blackberries. A few vines had sprouted near the base of our porch steps.

On impulse, I tried pulling them up with the weed-puller. And it worked! Look at those roots!

This weed puller has its limitations. Since we purchased it in May of last year, by that point many of the thistles were already too large and/or the ground was too dry to sink the claws into it. Nor does it work well in rocky soil, where the claws can't be pushed into the ground. For obvious reasons this tool works best in damp soil when the four claws can be centered over the exact middle of the plant (impossible to do when the thistle is already two feet high).

But here in March, with the snow just off the ground and early weeds starting to grow, it is the absolute perfect time to use it.

We've started parking the weed puller by the gate on the deck, and grab it whenever we take Mr. Darcy for a walk. As we go, we casually lever out any hound's tongue or thistle we see. I've also started taking solo (meaning, without the dog) excursions onto the steeper wooded parts of our property where the hound's tongue is more likely to grow. It's a bit too early in the season yet, but you can bet your bottom dollar I'm going to be vigilant about eradicating this weed from our property.

So there you go. Another tool in our arsenal.


  1. That looks like a worth while tool. Thanks

  2. Thank you for previewing this tool for us. I've been hard at it trying to get up sticker bushes and the evil demon, wisteria, which grows a multitude of huge roots underground. And Chinese privet. I confess to some spraying, followed by pulling up the nasty things by whatever amount of root does die. Then burning it. And I'm told you can whack these boogers and immediately paint the fresh cut part with weed killer and it will die. Maybe. I have doubts about the wisteria.
    Wasn't it Adam who was supposed to eat by the sweat of his brow and fight thorns and all? Don got a steal of a deal when he married you.
    Good thing you're tackling weeds before they have a chance to reproduce.

  3. Depending on your situation: Weeds of the West by Thomas Whitson (FREE download from Univ. of Wyoming, just search the book's title) Also Weeds - Control Without Poisons by Charles Walters at AcresUSA.com - $17.50. Both are excellent and highly recommended. BTW - soil minerals have a lot to do with weeds AND LACK THEREOF.

  4. I was wondering if you can compost the pulled weeds minus seed pods and possibly composting them separately from other organic matter? I would think on cement slab so roots cannot reestablish themselves. Is it worth the time and effort for composted matter?

    1. Why risk the trouble of one little seed of satan' s curse escaping to put sweat on your brow and pricking you for compost? I'll let you come to my house and rake leaves or mow grass or clean the coop, or whatever. As will probably any of your neighbors!
      Actually, I've read articles saying yes and more adamantly saying NO!!
      Supposedly heat will destroy the seeds, but if you're like me, things never compost equally. And stuff sometimes comes up in the compost.
      Burn the boogers, then sprinkle their ashes, even in your compost if you like!

  5. I wonder if this tool will work on rocky soil? I am going out tomorrow on errands and this baby is on my list. I have various types of thistle, I have pulled a bunch and as you said it is best with damp/wet soil. Another never ending chore.

  6. For rosette weeds ie thistles and dandelion put 1 teaspoon of salt in the centre they are usually dead in 3 or 4 days.

  7. I have something similar called Grandpa's Weeder. It doesn't have a lever to remove the pulled weed, but it is an option if the Fiskar's one isn't available. It's around $40

  8. What a perfect little tool! Will be looking into this for our thistle populations, as well!

  9. In Neeeeed this!!! Thanks Patrice!! I have so many aggressive weeds and vines...weed wacker just cuts them back and spreads them around. They come back inspite of Roundup..weed barriers only so-so, not really practical. I'm losing my battle ...now I have a real helper!! Thanks again!

  10. I like the Fiskars tool but my wife doesn't. It can pull out some dirt with the root and leaves a little divot in the yard. I say it's good for aeration; but I don't win that argument, and she's taken over the weeding.

  11. Thank you for posting this, Patrice! You have perfect timing! I am going to order one and see if it will work on all the awful burdock around here!

  12. My preferred tool is a 9 iron, but when the thistles are particularly tough I'll go to the pitching wedge.