Gardening Curse: One Gardeners' Arch Nemesis
Last updated 6/6/2023 at 11:02am
Summers here, okay, well maybe not officially! It's easy to tell when summer arrived and not just by wiping away sweat while working outdoors as our daytime temperature rapidly increases, surpassing 90F on several occasions. I'm talking about the weed population, it seems to have exploded exponentially, over a very short period. Gardeners, I don't know if you're experiencing the same issue, but I've got weeds-a-plenty-in each garden area: vegetable patches, flower beds and even the lawn, though I admit I find white-clover (an indicator to add nitrogen fertilizer) growing in lawns attractive, as do bees and butterflies.
Gardeners, if I were to ask you your least favorite gardening task, the resounding response is always 'weeding'. Weeds are 'sneaky', destructive, and often obscure, growing quickly by robbing water and nutrients from the soil which beneficial plants require. Now is the time for a reality check, maintaining an entirely weed-free garden or landscape is impossible, but making time to address problem areas quickly and by implementing corrective actions can drastically reduce future weed growth, and dramatically diminish a gardeners' time spent weeding!
Believe it or not, there are 'right' and 'wrong' ways to remove weeds from our garden areas, so let's 'dig' into a few of the best ways to extricate weeds from our garden and free-up some time to relax and enjoy our outdoor spaces!
Weed Now (Just Do It)- allowing weeds to tower over beneficial plants and vegetables makes matters far worse when it's time to remove them. Small weeds have small root systems, which are weaker, making them easier to remove. Reserve time every 2 or 3 days and quickly inspect your garden, it only takes a few minutes to pull out young weeds.
Get the Root- grasp the base of the weed, take your time, and grasp all leaves around the base and the stem, gently tug the weed from the soil, Ensure the roots are removed, otherwise the weed will break into two pieces with the roots remaining in the soil which means it will return! Note: there are weeds which are stubborn, such as thistle varieties, grow deep roots but are extremely difficult to pull because they have prickly stems and foliage that can pierce most gardening gloves, so use heavy leather gloves.
Use the Right Tools- using the right tool for the job can speed up the weed removal process. Chose ergonomic tools that are crafted well, including solid handles with comfortable grips. Kneeling, standing, and stooping repetitive motion places stress on a gardener's legs, shoulders and lower back. Choose wisely before investing in gardening tools to keep you from 'pulling' something other than weeds!
Prevention- stop the weeds from germinating by using a pre-emergent herbicide. Sprinkle the granular herbicide on the soil surface and water, as the granules dissolve, they penetrate the soil creating a barrier surrounding the seeds. Note: Pre-emergent herbicides are non-selective and keep all seeds from germinating! I'm not an advocate of herbicides of any type, ever!
The Burn- for large areas of weeds or areas which are 'out of control', along fence lines, or around raised garden beds , one method to consider is burning them out of existence using a torch. Weeds should be actively growing and 'green' (not brown), so be careful and don't start a fire! Another method, (my preferred method) uses "boiling" water multiple times during the seasons to reduce weed populations without fire risk! Fill a kettle with water, then carefully pour the hot water on the weeds, but take care not to allow the water to splash onto your feet. There is another method of killing weeds using the radiant energy generated by sun. Spread a large section of black plastic or tarp and hold it in position with weights. Sunlight will heat the soil temperature beneath the sheeting destroying weeds and weed seeds.
Landscape Fabric- are woven fabrics, such as polypropylene, which are placed on the soil surface. Often used in flower beds, borders, walkways, around trees, shrubs, roses, and other garden applications creating a physical barrier, and then covered with mulch materials. The fabric allows water to permeate the soil.
Damp Soil- the best time to weed garden areas is after it rains. The next best time is after watering flower beds, vegetable gardens or the lawn. Moist soil makes removing the entire weed (including the root) more likely to occur. Some gardening experts recommend placing weeds in compost bins, I'm not one of them! In fact, I'm completely against the practice of adding weeds to compost bins. Many gardeners simply don't follow 'good' composting techniques, and their compost piles do not generate the high temperature required kill weeds or weed seeds.
Herbicides- can be used to control weeds and for many gardeners, it simply makes gardening easier for them. In case you missed my comments earlier, this gardener doesn't advocate the use of herbicides, ever, under any circumstance! Yes, I would agree using an herbicide is easy but at what cost to our local environment? No sugar coating today readers, herbicides are highly toxic substances, and my recommendation is and will always be to find an environmentally friendly alternative, without exception. There are natural remedies to utilize before reaching for herbicides, such as horticultural vinegar which effectively kills individual weeds or large 'weedy' patches.
As gardeners, we must learn to live with weeds and follow a comprehensive approach to reduce weed populations. Start by removing while weeds are small, and before they bloom, setting seed. Early removal drastically reduces the need to use toxic herbicides that are not healthy for our environment.
So long for now fellow gardeners, let's go out and grow ourselves a greener, more sustainable world, one plant at a time! If you have gardening questions, email me: [email protected] or phone the Orange County Master Gardeners Helpline: (409) 882-7010.