Garden triage

For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you probably know Bill and I traveled to Yorkshire on a fabulous garden tour arranged during England’s National Garden Scheme. For those of you who don’t, posts about our trip are in the works. My mom is unwell, and I’ve been spending a lot of time with her, and I’m a bit behind. Bear with me, please.

After we flew home a week ago Sunday, I found my own garden a beautiful and unruly mess. It’s time for garden triage. How does one do garden triage?

Zinnias and sunflowers in the cutting garden. Garden triage
Zinnias and sunflowers in the cutting garden.

First, assess what needs doing.

I live and garden on a pretty steep hill, and since Oklahoma got tons of rain while I was gone, my river rock paths are a washed out mess. I need to drag the gravel up and repair the paths where it washed out. Honestly, I’ve never seen it this bad before. We must have had some true gully washers. Sorry, I didn’t take a photo of the paths. However, check out this messy garden bed on the left below. On the right, was after I’d worked in it.

All of my gardens are full of weeds and weedy grass. Crabgrass is always looking for a foothold in any Oklahoma garden especially if you have nice, friable soil–something I’ve been working toward for thirty years. The weeds appreciate my efforts as you can see.

Tackle one area at a time.

When doing garden triage, tackle one area at a time.

My entire 1.5-acre garden is composed of rooms. I’m not sure this was intentional, but let’s just say it was and move on.

After assessing the damage, I started on the potager and long cutting/vegetable garden beds. I chose these first because vegetable gardens often won’t wait. If you don’t pick some vegetables–like green beans for example–plants quit producing, and the season for that vegetable is over.

In the past, I might have just let everything die and start over next year, but I no longer do that. Instead, I just take each garden room step-by-step and work only on it. I try not to look at the rest of the mess as I do it either. That way I don’t get depressed.

This bed in the potager was full of weedy grass too. I freed the 'Phenomenal' lavender from the grasses' clutches, and it was soon full of butterflies and bumblebees again.
This bed in the potager was full of weedy grass too. I freed the ‘Phenomenal’ lavender from the grasses’ clutches, and it was soon full of butterflies and bumblebees again.

Use the right tools.

I used my favorite tools to dig out any grass or weeds and free my vegetable and herb plants from their grassy tombs.

What tools do I like this season? For weeding, I now love Burgon & Ball’s mighty pick because it has both a pointed end and a sharp side. I also really like Sneeboer’s five-tine hand garden rake for getting out pesky Bermuda grass. The hand rake was sent to me last Christmas by Garden Tool Company, but I think Sneeboer’s tools are some of the best in the business. In fact, I bought two of their transplanting trowels this spring. They are pricey but would make a great gift for the gardener in your life. That’s about all the tools I used in this episode of garden triage. Another thing I did was water the hard ground about two hours before I would work in a section. It made pulling weeds up from their roots much easier, and you must always try to get their roots.

I then picked all of the ripe fruit. I lost all of my summer squash plants to squash bugs while I was gone. It’s okay, I’ll just buy squash at the farmer’s market. I could replant, but I would need to be here full-time to keep squash bugs away. I’m speaking at GWA’s Annual Conference & Expo in Chicago in August, and I’m traveling to the 115th Harley Davidson Anniversary Celebration in Wisconsin in September so I need more forgiving vegetables than summer squash.

The tomatoes, especially ‘Red Racer,‘ a cocktail or salad-sized tomato and ‘Valentine,’ a grape tomato, are both off to a good start. Both of these tomatoes are All-America Selections, and AAS sent me seeds to trial. Both tomatoes taste very good in salads and for general snacking. You can leave both on the vine for a while too. Each has a tougher skin that seems very crack resistant. In other news, ‘Supersteak,’ an old-fashioned favorite, had three large fruit on the plant, but each had blossom end rot probably due to the rain.

See? Problems happen to us all. I just pitched the damaged fruit over the fence out of sight and began again. I also have peppers and more basil than I can ever consume, along with green beans and eggplant starting to do their thing.

As you can see from the above photos, there are some bright spots in spite of things getting out of hand.

If you need me, I’ll be outside in the garden working one bed at a time and drinking plenty of water in this heat. Here’s to all of us enjoying our gardens and getting them ready for fall for fall is one of the best seasons in an Oklahoma garden.



  1. Rose says:

    My garden is desperate need of triage, too, and I haven’t even been away! I’m blaming the heat–I can only do so much before the sweat rolling down my face gets to me. It always makes me feel a little better to know I’m not the only one battling weeds–thanks, Dee. I hope your mother is feeling better soon. I know how difficult that is and that she is your first priority–the garden will wait for you.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Rose, you blame the heat all you want. It’s been pretty miserable here this week too. All I’ve done is go around and water a few pots. I plan to work tomorrow. Really, I do. My mom is a little better. Here’s hoping for better days.

  2. Rebecca Reed says:

    Sadly a good.poetion of our garden is out of control. Between a husband with a hurt back and a toddler it feels like we are sometimes drowning. Like you I usually work through one section at a time. I need to take the time to dig out the weeds rather than just pulling them.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Rebecca, I’m so sorry about your husband’s back. That is tough. I once had a toddler or four, not all at the same time, or course, and I had to learn to do things about twenty minutes at a time. I did get a lot done though. More triage here tomorrow. Hang in there. Cooler days are coming.

  3. Carol Michel says:

    Yep, one bed at a time and sometimes, just one corner of one bed at a time!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yup, Carol, I saw another mess today and thought, that can wait until tomorrow. Ha!

  4. Peggy Z says:

    The grass! Crab and Bermuda! Can’t get the Bermuda to grow where I want it to, but turn on the water to the tomatoes and peppers and it is everywhere! Your plants look beautiful! We have not had ear as much rain. And your are right on weeding the beds. I do a little bit every time I go to the garden. Stay cool. Can you believe we are almost to Augus?!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Peggy, no! I cannot believe we are nearly to August. I have a talk to write. Maybe I should do that tomorrow afternoon after I work outside. 😉

  5. Jennifer Hendrix says:

    I am desperate for some help in stopping bindweed, morning glories & grapevine (maybe possum grape?), which are ALL attempting a takeover of my entire yard! I’ve never seen bindweed or grapevine in my yard before, but this year I am seeing them EVERYWHERE. SUGGESTIONS PLEASE? Preferably no chemicals since i’m gardening for kids & pollinators…

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Jennifer, you might try horticultural vinegar mixed with some dish soap to help it stick. It is natural, but it’s also a broad spectrum herbicide so it will burn your grass if you get some overspray on it. Other than that, in a lawn, I just don’t know.

      1. Jennifer R Hendrix says:

        I WILL DEFINITELY TRY IT!!! I am willing to sacrifice some grass to get rid of these aggressive vines! THANK YOU! You continue to inspire me to go for it. I hope things with your mom settle down.

        1. Dee Nash says:

          The best of luck. Remember to use concentrated vinegar, not the grocery aisle kind.

  6. Gail says:

    Thanks for the shout-out of our All-America Selection Winning Tomatoes!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      You bet Gail! They’re great! I’m using them again next year.

  7. Layanee says:

    One bed at a time is a good motto for gardening and life! LOL Yes, garden triage happening here as well but Yorkshire was a wealth of knowledge and a great time. I am so grateful you and Bill were there to enjoy it all.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Layanee, I’m so glad we went too. We had such a great time, and you put together great gardens.

  8. Penny Post says:

    Great description of a way to tackle what sounds like a large garden. Currently tackling one room at a time in my garden, although that has had years of neglect so more a case of major surgery than a bit of triage.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Penny! Sometimes, surgery is definitely what’s needed. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Made my day.

  9. “When doing garden triage, tackle one area at a time.” That’s great advice for so many areas of life, Dee. 🙂 It’s hard to do, but it’s certainly more effective than trying to do everything at once. We’ve had some incredible gully washers this season, too. Things seem to be settling more into a “normal” summer pattern, so … I hope it stays that way. Your garden looks gorgeous, no matter what. Continued thoughts and prayers for you and your family, Dee.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Beth. So far, so good. She seems to be improving. Getting old is hard though. I think we’re now in a summer pattern too. It is hot out there. I work a little in the mornings.

  10. Ann says:

    We are getting all of the Oklahoma heat and no rain here in the piney woods of east Texas.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Ann, I’m sorry for you. We are no longer getting rain either. Let’s all hope for a rainy September to have a beautiful fall, shall we?

  11. mona gabriel says:

    I’m sorry your Mama isn’t doing well..but glad you are getting to spend time with her. Your garden is still pretty amazing and an inspiration to many. Our crushed slate paths have washed out twice this summer and the hardwood mulch has washed into all the beds. what a mess. but..we persevere, we gardeners..
    Good to hear from you as I was thinking about you today and missing your posts..

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Mona. It’s great seeing your comment here. Yes, she and I have been spending a lot of time together. It’s been on hard things, but she’s doing a bit better. I’m sorry to hear about your washed out paths and mulched beds. It’s always something. Here’s hoping that will stop, and you can just enjoy your blooms.

  12. I love the begonia in the Talavera pot–great pairing of pot to container.

    I think my approach to weeding has changed over the years. When my children were small, my garden would get seriously out of control. I then found it better to do an all-over garden triage, instead of bed-by-bed, as I describe here: Nowadays, if it’s hot, I’ll just work on whatever is in the shade at the moment. If it’s not too hot, I’ll work on what’s bugging me the most–like the grasses infiltrating the coleus in your first set of photos–because I tend to notice and want to pull out the weeds that are spoiling the effect I’m after. Whatever the system or method, I heartily agree that you should make sure the bed is moist. It makes all the difference.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Kathy, I just do it bit by bit. Mornings are cooler here, and that’s when I work at my best. Yeah, that grass was making me quite unhappy. Now, I go by that bed and smile.

  13. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    With a garden as large as yours you have to look at it one bed at a time then one room at a time. Heck, I have to do that in my little 1/4 acre. I can’t wait until I can read about your garden tours in England.
    I hope your Mother gets better. Prayers for you all.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you dear. Bit-by-bit applies to caring for Mom too. Kisses!

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