Winter blues? Get out in your garden, because there's weeding you can do now

Ann Lovejoy
Special to the Kitsap Sun

If dark, dreary winter days leave us feeling low, we can best beat those winter blues by going outside. Once there, look for something useful to do that doesn’t involve tromping around in the garden, compacting soil and accidentally crushing hopeful new shoots. My go-to activity is winter weeding, as it’s a terrific way to boost sagging energy, especially where noxious weeds have run wild. Winter weeding is particularly rewarding because the soil is moist and open and roots yield readily to tugging hands. While I may not initially feel energetic, even a few minutes of yanking up yards and yards of ivy and bindweed can be surprisingly stimulating. Indeed, it’s so satisfying to chase down those wandering roots that it’s hard to stop. When I get tired of bending and stooping, I can stand up, stretch a bit, then start ripping ivy off tree trunks. There’s something very soothing in helpful destruction, especially where you don’t have to be careful or worry about doing harm.

By now, I hope most gardeners are aware of the worst weeds, those that should be removed whenever we see them. Sadly ubiquitous weeds such as ivy, holly, Scotch broom and European cutleaf blackberry are excellent targets. Since they’re all evergreen, they’re easy to spot in the winter-brown landscape. A more recently identified problem plant is European Daphne laureola, an evergreen shrub with tiny greenish flowers in late winter that attract early bees. The berries are then eaten by birds, which spread the seeds everywhere. Unfortunately, this handsome shrub is so prolific it’s earned noxious weed status in Washington and must be ruthlessly rooted out. If you think you have this daphne on your property, check online for images to be sure. It looks much like a taller, larger, more leathery version of evergreen wood spurge, Euphorbia robbiae (another Euro-invader). Like the spurge, all parts of Daphne laureola are toxic, so use gloves when removing it, and wash them off to avoid contact with the sap. The berries, greenish turning blackish, are edible for birds but toxic for humans, so definitely pull any plants where children might find them.

Ann Lovejoy

Ivy removal is a fun family activity, especially if energetic teens are involved. Pull ivy off tree trunks as high as you can reach, then rip out the roots to keep the ivy from reclaiming the tree. Large patches of ivy can be smothered with coarse wood chips; Kitsap County trials showed that 3 inches of wood chip mulch killed 80% of groundcover ivy in three months, while deeper mulches (8-12 inches) worked even faster. Ivy can re-root, so put in the green waste, not the compost heap(!).

Scotch broom is easily pulled when young (pretty in winter wreaths!) and mature plants can be cut to the ground as they won’t re-sprout. Evergreen European blackberries can also be cut to the ground, with as much root removed as possible. Chop up the long canes and put them in the green waste, not the compost. Cut any persistent shoots whenever you see them to eventually exhaust the roots you can’t reach. Mature holly has a huge root system, so pull it while it’s young whenever possible. To remove larger holly shrubs, trim off side branches first, cut the main trunk(s), then dig out the rootball. Better yet, cause it to be dug by somebody else or put a chain around it, attach it to a sturdy truck, and let the truck haul it out of the ground. Onward, right?

Contact Ann Lovejoy at 413 Madrona Way NE, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110 or visit Ann’s blog at and leave a question/comment.