Peony Rescue with Cobrahead

– Posted in: Garden chores, New House, New Gardens, Peonies
16 comments

The unseasonably mild weather has prompted me to start in on garden clean-up. And since the garden was untended for at least a year, there is a lot of cleaning up to do. This was what the garden looked like last year in early June, the first time we went to see the house we now live in:

Perennial bed early June 2011

Notice the row of peonies in front? I can also pick out dianthus and lupines. What else do you think is in there? (Click photos to enlarge)

And this is what it looks like now, from the left corner of the first photo:

Long view of peonies

Looking down the length of the border: the peonies are at the edge of the garden, where it borders the lawn. The disorganized garden shed mentioned in a previous post is in the background.

This garden is edged with round rocks.

Rock edging

These rocks didn't prevent the grass from creeping into the bed. Arrow points to peony shoot.

I have just pulled sod off the tops of the rocks in the above photo. The bare earth is on the lawn side of the edging. All the grass you see? That’s growing inside the garden, on top of, and sometimes through, the peonies. You can see one peony shoot in the picture, and there’s more underneath. Furthermore, the peonies are coming up through the rocks. The rocks have got to go. They are easy to remove. The weeds have got to go. Removing them is a more delicate, and therefore more difficult, operation.

At first, after removing the rocks, I just grabbed the grass and other weeds with my fingers, trying to get my fingers down under the roots before pulling up. Because the earth is so saturated, this sometimes worked. But often, I just pulled up the leaves, leaving the roots behind to cause trouble later. And I often snapped off peony shoots as I pulled.

“If I could only get my finger a little further under those roots, I could get them out!” I thought. Then I remembered my friend describing her CobraHead Weeder as a giant fingernail. I went rooting around in the garden shed to find mine. And you know what? It did work just like a giant finger. Here’s a typical weed overgrowing a peony. (I think it’s an aster.)

Peony grown over with weeds

Believe it or not, there's a peony under there.

I would first do a little exploring with my own finger, getting under the roots. Then I would insert the CobraHead, like so:

Cobrahead inserted under weeds

Placing the Cobrahead correctly is essential. You don't want it damaging the peony shoots underneath.

The trick is to position the flat part of the blade so it is horizontal, that is, so it is parallel with the soil surface. (If it points down instead of across, it will damage the peony roots that are very close to the surface.) Then I pull straight up. Most of the time, mat forming weeds come right up. Any pieces of root left behind are easily removed with my fingers.

Aster removed by the Cobrahead

I got it!

Rescued peony

Here's what was under that weed clump!

Repeat and repeat and repeat. I actually find this to be satisfying work, especially since the weather has been so pleasant. If I didn’t have other obligations, I could spend my day rescuing peonies.

Weeded and trimmed peonies

All cleaned up and ready to grow!

I’ve learned from my experience taking back a bed overrun with goldenrod that getting these runner-producing roots early can make a big difference.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

~Margaret Atwood in

14 Comments… add one

Susan March 21, 2012, 11:49 pm

Hi, great post- I am going to have to get one of these and try it out on my place.
I live on an island near Seattle, but our weeds grow as well as yours do.
Great Blog!
-Susan

Sharon March 21, 2012, 9:41 pm

It’s great to see how other more experienced gardeners deal with the problems I seem to face all the time. I went back and read your post on getting rid of the goldenrod and I think it is really useful to see the sequence of photos and read your advice. When I have recently tried similar renovations, I haven’t been brave enough to replant right away or right next to a spot that hadn’t been cleared, so it was great to see you were able to do that.

Kathy Purdy March 21, 2012, 9:44 pm

I am glad you found it helpful; that’s precisely why I wrote that post.

Jean March 21, 2012, 9:00 pm

What a delicate operation and what a great tool to use! How many peonies do you think you discovered in that area?

Kathy Purdy March 21, 2012, 9:45 pm

I think it will be easier to estimate once they come up more. All those little red points run together. But there must be at least a dozen and perhaps double that.

Natalie Webb March 21, 2012, 6:15 pm

I have never seen one of those but man, I need it right now. We’re having a weeks-long heat wave in Chicago right now and the massive relandscaping project (which would be ambitious even if we weren’t doing on a shoestring budget and with only our own personal manpower) seems more weed than plant.

Nothing we do seems to keep this under control. I have a rundown of the current state of The Retirement Garden Project (for my parents’ retirement, not mine) here, 9 months after breaking ground: http://www.leavemetomyprojects.com/spring-landscaping/

Any tips for large-scale weeding? This seems more than a couple of sets of hands can do.

Dee/reddirtramblings March 21, 2012, 11:07 am

Great advice Kathy. I find the CobraHead works well for removing Bermuda grass out of my beds too. Great tool. Love your new mystery beds.~~Dee

Liza and John's Garden March 21, 2012, 10:05 am

Kathy; Looks like you have a lot of Garden Therapy ahead of you this spring. I see that you are a lot like me about gardening, its fun, relaxing, enjoyable and the best physical and mental therapy that one can indulge in.

Good luck with the reclaim and what ever gardening come from it.
Have a great day,
John

Gail March 21, 2012, 9:01 am

Kathy, Small hand tools are the best resources for a gardener~I haven’t a Cobrahead but it might go on my birthday list! I love seeing your garden be freed from weeds and thugs. This spring will be exciting for you to see what else the garden weeds have been hiding. gail

Layanee March 21, 2012, 7:25 am

That is a great tool and tutorial on using it. Love mine. Now the peonies will be free of that binding corset and will bloom on with abandon.

Frances March 21, 2012, 6:43 am

How exciting, Kathy, and well done on the peony rescue! I see some daylily clumps that need dividing in there. Hard to tell about what other treasures might be lurking. That will be a fine show when the peonies bloom!

Deborah at Kilbourne Grove March 21, 2012, 6:00 am

I actually find all weeding mentally relaxing, (certainly not physically), I get a lot of great ideas while do so. The cobra weeder looks wonderful, I could certainly use one this spring. I am sure the weeds have had a big party and increased greatly in number while I have been in Barbados.

Yvonne March 20, 2012, 10:35 pm

Oh, goodness, I don’t envy you all that hard work of cleaning up a neglected garden bed. Good tool though, I use mine a lot too, but mostly on weeds in my paths. I will try out your trick with embedded weeds in the garden too. Mostly, I use a straight weeding knife in the garden beds, which is perfect for my bĂȘte noire, the nasty dandelion. But I think the Cobrahead will be great for golden rod and such as well. Great idea.

Kathy Purdy March 20, 2012, 10:48 pm

You are right, my technique doesn’t work well with tap-rooted weeds. I used an old-fashioned dandelion weeder for that. It is work, but it’s meditative work. Rather relaxing for me.

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