June 17, 2017
The pounding rains of winter are a distant memory, but the veritable carpet of green that now surrounds us as a result of all that water is not. Plants are growing lustily everywhere you look, including ones you don’t want — the weeds in your garden.
You know the saying: a weed is simply any plant in a place you don’t want it. Are you seeing grasses, dandelions, bindweed, wild blackberry and others popping up in your lawn, flower beds or vegetable garden? Even in teeny spaces between bricks on your patio? What’s a gardener to do with such a bounty of weeds?
Often the easiest and fastest answer is to whip out the weed killer. You won’t see instant results, but with a minimum of labor, anything sprayed with the product will die in the coming weeks. However, with a bit of effort, you can have immediate results while protecting people, pets, wildlife and the environment from potentially toxic herbicides.
If your weed management approach is “let them be,” knowing they’ll eventually die back, think again. Some weeds are aggressive and invasive; tops may die down, but roots remain alive until conditions are right for them to grow. Many spread by seeds; that one little dandelion plant in your lawn can produce nearly 2,000 seeds during a single growing season!
My garden sprouted more weeds this year than probably the last three combined. Tackling the gargantuan task of manual removal was made easier by taking on a little section at a time. Committing 10 to 15 minute increments of weed pulling a couple times a week and snagging family to do the same, we got most of it done over a few weeks. To simplify the process:
• Get them while they’re young. Weeds with tender leaves and less developed roots are easier to extract.
• Pull while the soil is still moist — as soil dries out it tightens its grip on roots. Irrigate a day or two before you start pulling.
• Yank them out before they develop seeds. If you’ve got tall weeds and can’t pull them, use a string trimmer to cut them down before they flower.
• Get the whole thing, roots and all. Grab the weed close to the ground, twisting the plant slightly as you remove it. Leaving even a portion of the roots is enough for them to regrow, especially those with deep taproots like dandelions, or the lengthy tenacious roots of bindweed.
• Use tools for difficult spaces — an old screwdriver can help pry out those nasty ones shooting up between pavers or in the cracks of a driveway. For areas blanketed with tiny weeds, try a stirrup/hula hoe. Push and pull the hoe just under the soil surface to loosen weeds for easy removal.
Once those vexing weeds are gone, keep them from coming back. An ounce of prevention really does save you a whole lot of time and effort in the future.
• Don’t disturb soil unless you need to. Dormant seeds brought to the surface and exposed to air and light will be ripe for germination.
• Block their growth by covering open areas with landscape fabric (weed block) and topping it with soil or mulch. Water and air gets through, but weeds can’t easily penetrate the barrier.
• Crowd the weeds out by planting densely; keep ample space for air circulation, but minimize exposed soil.
• Mulch, mulch, mulch! Cover the surface of soil with 2 to 3 inches of organic material such as fir bark or wood chips.
• Water the plants you want, not bare soil. Deprive weed seeds of moisture they need to germinate by using drip irrigation or soaker hoses.
With some upfront planning and effort, you can have a good looking garden with a minimum of weeds for the season, without using toxic chemicals — good for your family, pets, wildlife and the environment.