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Lowenfels: Get the most out of your weed whacker

A few times a year I spend the entire day working the property over with a weed whacker. It is one of the tricks my father taught me: Trim up the yard to get rid of errant grasses and it will look great no matter what state plantings are in. And he was right.

Of course, back in my father's day, there was no such thing as a "weed whacker," only children who could be assigned the task of cleaning up around trees, fences, walls, shrubs and whatever else needed to have grass and weeds cut back to look nice. My brothers and I used all manner of lawn mowers, clippers and even scissors to get the job done to dad's specifications.

But along came the invention of the weed whacker (alas, much too late for my brothers and I to use), theoretically making it much easier to trim things up around the yard. I say theoretically because no matter what kind you get there is always the problem of what happens when you run out of the "string" preloaded into your machine when you purchased it. Sometimes the old fashioned way of doing things is less frustrating.

Like starting a power lawn mower with a pull starter, getting new weed whacker whip string onto the spools used to hold it can be difficult and frustrating, especially when the mosquitoes are as bad as they are this year. I find myself saying "It shouldn't be this difficult" much more than once while working with mine.

Ah, but I probably don't have to tell you any of this if you own a weed eater. I am using this in the generic sense and not trying to pick on one manufacturer, because frankly, having tried several, they all seem to be about the same. Most have two strings that do the cutting, and these have to be wound separately around a spool, which then has to be inserted, usually along with a spring to help it dish out the line when in use, into the head of the machine.

One quickly learns that monofilament line has a mind of its own and is much better for fishing than for putting into a weed whacker (It REALLY shouldn't be this hard).

In any case, learning how to fill yours is a necessary stage because these tools are essential for all yardeners. Obviously, cutting grass that the mower cannot reach is the first use -- up against decks, walkways, boxes and other planters, under trees and shrubs, along fences and outbuildings as well as the house. Whack down all of these to the lawn's length. It might even be a good idea to cut even lower so you don't have to come back every week. Just tilt the tool to one side ever so slightly and you can clean right down to the soil and even deeper.

Once finished you will have a yard that is "clean." It is subtle and visitors (and non-helping family members) may not be able to put their finger on it. However, it will impress.

Next, weed whackers are terrific tools for keeping dandelions in check. Put yours right over a weed, tilt it ever so slightly and slide it away as the line whips off the leaves of the dandelion. You probably won't kill most of them, but you will stop them from flowering for a long time. The chore is very satisfying if you are into getting revenge on the little yellow fellas.

Next, make dog and moose urine spots blend into your lawn. There is usually longer, greener grass growing around the dead spot. Put the weed eater into the center of the spot and let it level everything to lawn height.

Finally, use your machine to uncover walks and walls overgrown with grass and weeds. Here is where it really pays to use those safety glasses. A judicious use of a weed whacker will surely help uncover them to their former glory.

As to what kind to use? I had a professional weed eater, the kind you see park workers and paid landscape caretakers use with a gas engine. As it got older, the engine was harder -- i.e. more frustrating -- to start (it shouldn't be so difficult!). So I decided to go electric and have never looked back except when I get the string tangled up on the extension cord.

Yeah, it shouldn't be so difficult!


Jeff Lowenfels' new book is "Teaming With Nutrients: The Organic Gardener's Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition. Find out more at and


Garden calendar

Water: As of this writing it is hot and very dry. Don’t water lightly in such cases. Make sure you lawn is getting one-half inch to an inch every watering. Do it in the early morning too. Perennials may not need much, but annuals surely will.

Greenhouses: Over 95 degrees and plants shut down. You have to have ventilations.

Thin: Carrots, beets, lettuces.

Harvest: Radishes, lettuces

Stake: It will rain and when it does those delphiniums may be vulnerable because they are hollow. Stake them now. Careful of the roots. Same with peonies.

Lighthouse Garden Tea: July 11. This annual Alaska Botanical Garden event out in Eagle River is a real must do for all gardeners. Details at

Willow Garden Tour: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, July 27. Details at

Twenty-first Coyote Garden Tour: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. July 27, and noon-5 p.m. July 28. Held in conjunction with the Willow Garden Tour, this is your chance to see Les Brake’s famous garden up close instead of in the pages of national magazines. Donations are suggested to help the Willow Garden Club. For more information, call 907-495-6525.