Weeds will grow anywhere there is bare ground. You can pull them, poison them, smother them. They come back. The only way to keep them away is to plant something else that will occupy the soil. Big trees, small bushes, dense riots of flowers - it doesn't matter what. If you don't want weeds, you have to want something else.
Weeds take longer to grow back if you pull the roots and not just the green stuff on top. Sometimes getting only the green stuff is good enough. Sore muscles, tired body and boredom often drive me to a get-it-done-quick approach. It just means that I have to go back and weed again sooner. Once the green parts have been ripped off, the roots are harder to get to. However, out of sight, out of mind. Temporarily.
Some weeds do not give up their roots easily. Quackgrass produces beautiful green blades that clump together, making it nearly impossible for anything else to grow in their space. It chokes out whatever existed in the ground previously. Animals love to graze on Quackgrass and one single blade makes a perfect whistle when held tightly between fingers. It is equally useful, attractive and deadly.
No ordinary roots for this hearty survivor. It is held in the ground by rhizomes that look like thin white snakes. One small clump of grass, pulled out carefully, can reveal a disproportionately huge mass of tangled, writhing roots. Roots that snap off easily, leaving parts safely hidden in the soil. Even the smallest section is enough for a whole new clump to grow from.
Weeds come out of the ground easier if the ground is moist and soft. Hard dry ground will not yield even the green parts of weeds without scraping the skin from hands or the fabric from gloves. Roots are impossible to pull. Weeding tools just bounce right back at the weeder leaving only minor scratches in the soil.
Weeding is easier if the weeds are not allowed to grow out of control. Catching them when they are small means much less work, happier muscles and much more time for planting big trees, small bushes and dense riots of flowers. I almost never pull weeds until they are huge and a huge chore. I almost always say I'll get to this earlier next year.
Weeding does not have to be completed in one hour, one day, or even one summer. The commitment to pull some weeds every day gets the job done eventually. That approach leaves time to enjoy the rest of life and to appreciate the contrast between weeded areas and non-weeded areas. It also leaves my body less angry with me for ignoring its pleas for mercy.
Sometimes a weed becomes a treasured friend. Several years ago while weeding our bird feeder area I noticed a wild strawberry plant at the base of the bird bath. Wild strawberries evoke childhood memories of safe sunny respites from a harsh home. I would wander the railroad tracks in search of patches of the zigzagged triple leaves that always revealed tiny tart jewels fit for fairy royalty when gently tugged apart. I'd carefully fill the bottom of my t-shirt with the compact bounty and offer it to my mom as a gift. It was a gift she always received with pleasure - or so I remember. Her pleasure in me was as hard to find and as short-seasoned as those berries.
And so this plant felt like an offering from the gods of summer. I let it be. It has grown into a lush patch, not quite wild, but restrained only by its own ability to spread. I get to watch squirrels sit in its midst, sitting on haunches devouring tiny strawberries held between tiny paws. I get to savor the taste of red wildness on my tongue that speaks freedom to me. I get to enjoy the sight of Toby lying smack in the middle of the thick greenery knowing that he can't hurt these plants.
What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson