trimming weeds

How to Cut Back Thick Weeds

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Lawn mowers and weed trimmers prove effective at cutting back weeds most of the time, but mowers can stall out and weed trimmers can tangle when cutting thick stands of weeds or weeds with thick stems. While you can still use these mechanized solutions to finish the job, it’s best to use a manual weed trimming tool first to reduce the height of tall weeds and slow the pace so you can easily stop and hand-pull thick-stemmed weeds as you work. You can use numerous manual tools for this job.

Strike a double-edged weed cutter swiftly against the base of the weeds in a sweeping motion to hack them down. This tool features a rectangular blade with two serrated edges mounted to a long handle. It might take a few passes with the weed cutter to cut down the weeds; repeat this process across the entire stand.

Swing a scythe against the base of the weeds to cut them down. Think of this action as somewhere between putting and driving a golf ball, but without the high follow-through with the swing. Raise the blade behind you at about a 45-degree angle with the ground and bring it swiftly forward. This is the same tool used for centuries to harvest wheat and other tall, grassy crops.

Grasp a bundle of weeds firmly in your non-dominant hand and hook the crescent-shaped blade of a sickle around the bundle, below your hand. Pull the sickle swiftly toward yourself in a circular motion, following the same direction as your dominant hand. If you’re right-handed, hold the blade in your right hand and bring it toward your body in a clockwise circle. The circular motion ensures you don’t accidentally hit yourself with the blade. This small tool works well for cleaning up thick weeds around trees and other plants you wish to keep.

Cut down the weeds with manual hedge shears, which feature two blades that operate with a scissor motion. This tool works well for cutting thick stands of weeds and also works fairly well for cutting through thick, tough weed stems. This means you don’t have to stop and hand-pull thick weeds, but you might need to snip the blades closed two or three times to cut all the way through the thick stems.

Clip individual thick-stemmed weeds with bypass pruners or lopping shears to reduce them to the same height as the surrounding grass and weeds. Some weeds, such as Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium), have sharp barbs on the stems that make it difficult and painful to pull them out by hand.

  • U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration: Handtools for Trail Work
  • The Scythe Book: Mowing Hay, Cutting Weeds, and Harvesting Small Grains, With Hand Tools; David Tresemer
  • Mother Earth News: Where Can I Learn More About Using a Scythe for Cutting Weeds and Brush?
  • Youtube: Permaculture Tools: Small Serrated Sickle (Similar to a Rice Knife)
  • Penn State Extension: Weed Management in Pasture Systems

A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.

How to Cut Back Thick Weeds. Lawn mowers and weed trimmers prove effective at cutting back weeds most of the time, but mowers can stall out and weed trimmers can tangle when cutting thick stands of weeds or weeds with thick stems. While you can still use these mechanized solutions to finish the job, it’s best to …

How to Use a String Trimmer Like a Pro

Trimmer Type

While curved-shaft string trimmers may be the best tool for some users, I find that a straight-shaft tool is far easier to control and much more effective. Plus, you can get it under things like shrubs and small trees more easily than with a curved tool.

Spin Direction

The biggest thing I see people struggling with when they use a string trimmer is spin direction. Just as a circular saw needs to eject sawdust as it works, a trimmer needs to eject debris from its cut path. If your trimmer spins counter clockwise, it ejects material from the left side of the tool and cuts best with the right side. So if you’re moving along a walk, curb, or low fence, keep the right side of your body closer to the work, which will position the head of the tool so it can cut and eject to the left. If you go the opposite way, you’ll eject material into the cut path, and there’s nowhere for it to go. It piles up along your cut line, bogs down the trimmer, and makes scalping (cutting too much of the blades of grass) inevitable.

Cutting Techniques

It seems like trimming your grass evenly should be simple—just hover the string trimmer above the grass and the whirring strings will cut it to length. But this isn’t the best approach, and in fact will lead to some serious scalping.

To turn an unruly tool into a precision machine that gives the cut I want, I rely on a few important techniques. Before you begin with them, it helps to understand one thing: The ends of the string are where the cutting power is. The faster and freer these move, the easier lawn life is.

Tapering: I treat the lawn’s edges in two ways: by tapering or edging. Along a curb, retaining wall, fence, or tree, I like to taper. This means that I hold the tool so the string strikes the grass at a slight angle.

The problem with not tapering, or holding the tool so the string is parallel to the ground, is that the entire diameter of the string has to cut a full swath of grass. One telltale sign that a person didn’t taper is a channel of grass the trimmer clearly cut shorter than the mowed grass. On the other hand, when you pitch the string tips toward the object you’re trimming against, you’re cutting less grass and leaving a tight, tapered edge, and also blending the edge with the height of the mowed grass for a clean look.

Edging: Where surfaces are essentially parallel—say, between grass and driveway or walkway, I like to edge. I turn the trimmer so the string is vertical. I then walk the tool into the cut path so that it can eject material where I just cut.

Expect to pull up dirt, rocks, and other debris doing this. In yards that haven’t been edged before, I don’t try to cut a crisp edge all at once. Instead I’ll cut more lawn each week until I “sneak up” on the edge I want. After that, maintaining it is a snap.

Scything: When up against an obstruction I can’t easily walk along or working in tall grass, I like to “scythe.” This means bringing the tool into and out of the work in a shallow U motion. Overlapping the scythes evens out the cut.

Screeding: For grass and weeds growing in driveways, paths, and sidewalk cracks, it’s fast and effective to do what I call screeding. Tip the tool so that the string tips are just glancing off the pavement, then move into the weed’s base, cutting flush to the hard surface. But be careful: Angle the tool too shallow and you’re just eating string and not cutting effectively. Too sharp an angle and the string can’t hit enough of the plant base to cut evenly.

Mark Clement is a home-improvement expert, licensed contractor, and host of the MyFixitUpLife show.

There are a few simple secrets to maxing out your string trimmer. They'll help minimize scalping, scarring and shredding your lawn. Know what landscapers know and use your string trimmer like a pro.