Master Gardener - Julie Barnes
A weed is considered to be a plant growing in the wrong place or “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” according to Ralph Waldo Emerson. But, in actuality, we took over the spaces weeds have lived in and created landscapes filling them with plants we desire. So now we must deal with these tenacious opportunists competing with our beloved plants for space, water, or nutrients as they produce quantities of seeds or spread thru resilient taproots or rhizomes to survive.
Here are some tips on how to cope with them:
- Leave the Soil Largely Undisturbed - All garden soil contains weed seeds regularly carried in by wind, runoff water, or wildlife and sometimes the mulch or manure we spread. Since light only penetrates the top one or two inches of soil, germination of seeds takes place just near the surface. Digging and cultivating will bring up long dormant weed seeds to pop up. By minimizing soil disturbances, such as turning over clods of soil, weed seeds should remain at rest.
- Keeps Seeds in the Dark with Mulch - Because weed seeds need light to sprout, spreading 2-3 inches of mulch such as compost, leaves, wood chips, straw, pine needles or any organic material can inhibit germination. Mulch benefits plants by keeping soil cool and moist while depriving weeds of light. Covering the soil’s surface with cardboard, newspaper, or landscape fabric and then spreading mulch over it can further deter weed growth in some areas. However, with landscape fabric there can be one drawback. As organic matter accumulates on top of it weed seeds dropped by birds or carried in on the wind will start to grow. Therefore, these weeds must be pulled before sinking their roots through it and then into the ground. Mulch about 2 inches deep and try to replenish it as needed.
- Make the Most of Moist Conditions - “Pull when wet; hoe when dry” is wise advice when facing down weeds. Weeding chores are best tackled right after a decent watering or rainfall. Softer ground makes it easier to pull or dig out weeds in their entirety. But, do not walk on wet soil though, or you will compact it. Hand-pulling is very effective in the removal of annual weeds especially before they have set seed, but using various tools should make it much easier to fight garden weeds as well. For Instance: A handheld dandelion weeder can easily pop strong tap-rooted weeds from the ground with its notched tip. A hula (stirrup) hoe’s sharp blade will cut weeds off just below the soil surface. While the sharp bladed collinear hoe slices weeds parallel at the ground surface.
- Chop- off the Weed Heads - If you have no time to remove weeds, the next best thing to do is to sever the plant tops to inhibit the production of seed heads. This cutting back will also limit the spread of vigorous perennial weeds at a stage when they are using their food reserves for flowering instead of root production.
- Close up Plant Gaps - Tightly planted beds will crowd out unwanted visitors. Emerging weeds can be choked out by closely placed plants that will shade the soil. Plants with broad leaves will especially crowd out weeds and can easily be thinned out gradually when needed.
- Water Plants not the Weeds - Place drip or soaker hoses so plants are irrigated only and not the weeds. In most climates weed-seed germination can be reduced by 50 to 70 percent just by depriving weeds of water.