The Tao Of Quackgrass (Or How To Get Rid Of The Quackgrass In Your Life)

I often find that my garden is not only a source of eternal delight (normally followed shortly by frustration, but that is another article) but of eternal enlightenment. I am fairly certain, in between saving the world from evil and ignorance and making great speeches with timelessly quotable material, the great men and women of history were gardeners.

Where else would these people have gained all of their wisdom and insight but in a garden? Ok, so there is books, life experience and just plain old genius, but beyond that, where else but a garden?

I am reminded of this when pulling quackgrass.   Yes, that insidious, nightmarish weed that can take over a flower bed faster than Tiger Woods can move through a sorority. That quackgrass. There is a Tao in quackgrass. And here you thought it was just a weed.

Just a weed! I shout from my quackgrass infested flower bed. This is a lesson. It is an opportunity to learn a great secret that my garden wants to whisper to me but can only speak in botanical octaves.  My garden, she speaks to me in weed (not the kind you smoke, though the enlightenment can sometimes seem to be the same).

On hands and knees with fingers reaching, I find the blades of quackgrass and revel in the wisdom.

Lesson number OneAll quackgrass is connected. Looking at a large bed of it, you would not think so and pull at a blade quickly, and they do not seem connected at all.   But it is. Deep and low, the roots bedevil through the soil, leaving new quackgrass in its wake.

Lesson Number TwoImpatience is quackgrass’ friend. Ripping quickly and angrily at quackgrass will not make it go away. As a matter of fact, it will only bring you sorrow — in the form of more quackgrass.   The best approach to quackgrass is a slow, steady pressure starting at the base of the grass. One that will reveal to us the root of the quackgrass and show us how it is connected to the others in the flower bed (see lesson number one).

Lesson Number ThreeConquering your quackgrass requires focus and persistence. Quackgrass cannot be eliminated simply by randomly pulling blades. Nor can you pull only a few blades of quack grass at a time. You must be determined. You must be methodical. Pull (slowly — see lesson number two) search pull search pull. One square foot at a time until it has been eliminated from your life.

Lesson Number Four  — Quackgrass will come back. No matter how often and well you deal with your quackgrass, it will come back. It is not a reflection on how well you as a gardener dealt with it the first time, it is simply a fact of life (see lesson number three).   Consider it a reminder of the Tao of quackgrass.

10 thoughts on “The Tao Of Quackgrass (Or How To Get Rid Of The Quackgrass In Your Life)
  1. If there were a selective herbicide for quack, I would be sorely tempted to use it. Now that I know I can achieve enlightenment in my struggle, maybe not so much.


  2. Libby on

    I cleared several large gardens of quackgrass last summer, and face several more this year. I have found the best approch is an attitude similar to this and an iPod loaded with interesting programs.


  3. Yeah I think Benjamin Franklin said something like “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and quack grass”.


  4. Hi Hanna,

    I have a gardening question and you were the first person I thought of to ask.

    I have 3 rose bushes in the area of the yard that gets the most sun. I was thinking – can I put herbs in around the roses? Would there be any reason why I couldn’t have both in the same space? I would appreciate any insight you would have into this.

    Thank you.



    Hanna Reply:

    You can, as long as the base of the rose gets enough sun. Thyme would be nice, I bet.

    Interplanting is popular with roses. People frequently plant roses and clematis together so the clematis climbs the rose bush and they flower at different times.


  5. Jenny on

    I’ve battled quackgrass on my farm for 13 years and would add a couple more tips:

    Start ripping the QG as soon as possible in the spring, before the roots start growing hairs and anchoring themselves in the soil.

    When you’ve cleared your garden of QG, mulch everything; this keeps the soil moist and loose, and any new roots that grow lay under the mulch for easy ripping as soon as you’ve seen the first new blade.

    Keep a mulch trench around the garden that’s dug up and then topped with mulch. I use this area for composting with heavy duty manure/straw mix that too fresh to use on the garden; the next season it’s ready to spread on the garden.

    My favorite tool for quackgrassing is a sturdy pitchfork as it lifts the plant without slicing worms and roots like a shovel does.

    Lastly, I’ve noticed that wherever quackgrass grows, there are many more worms because they feed off the sugars provided by growing roots. This means you are removing your worms’ food supply when you rip away the QG, so you should replace that food source with something to feed the worms and babies: rich new compost, mild manure, molasses crumbles, old milk, food discards, etc.

    No point to starving your worms in early spring when all they’ve got to eat is QG roots…


  6. very funny post , made me smile. I think it is called couch grass in the UK. same issues. same pain in the backside


  7. @ Jenny- This is really very informative. I didn’t know that quack grass is so essential for the worm. While gardening we should think about the worms also. Thanks for your tips.


  8. What a wonderful article! And I loved reading the comments as well.
    I had thought I was alone in my QG struggle — so good to know I struggle in
    good company. A couple Zen thoughts to add — as I dig hour after hour (I spent a year thinking the QG was a native weed, and let it take over!) I often feel as though I am ridding my soil of the rhizomes the same way meditation rids my mind of thoughts. Also, I try to appreciate what the QG is trying to do (hold the soil together the way it does in the north of England where it is mostly rocks and sand) rather than hating it. Great to know it is providing food for my earthworms, since I’ve still got plenty in the garden!


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