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Here's how to control weeds in your garden

Nature uses weeds to heal up sites which are plantless as a result of drought or poor soil conditions in order to protect and preserve the soil. However as gardeners we do not appreciate the effort that weeds are continually trying to accomplish.

Weeding to us is a never-ending chore, and left undone will quickly take over the whole garden. This week I will review some methods to use in controlling weeds. It is the first season you start a new garden that the weeds are usually the hardest to control because you are changing an area that was once something else into a garden. One good rule is don't take on more space than you can handle. It is better to do part and do it well, than to take too much and not really accomplish what you planned.

Weed seeds can lay dormant for a long, long time. But it is only the seeds in the first couple inches of soil that get enough light to germinate. So digging and cultivating brings hidden seeds to the surface each time you open the ground. So dig only when you need to and immediately heal up the disturbed spot with either plants or mulch well. In your lawn use a fishtail weeder so that you can slice straight down along taproots and not disturb the soil around the weed.

One of the best preventive measures for weeds is mulch. Mulch benefits plants by keeping the soil moist and cool, providing some nutrients, and depriving weeds of light. Some light will pass through only mulch, so you need to use a light blocker like cardboard, four layers of newspaper or landscape cloth under the mulch. Over time, if the mulch is not renewed weed seeds and debris will become trapped in the original mulch and start to grow. So keep renewing the mulch (wood chips, bark chips, straw, pine needles) a little each year to keep it about 3 inches thick.

The old saying "pull weeds when wet, hoe when dry" is a good way of controlling weeds. To make your garden look well kept, bring along a container to collect the weeds that you pull. If these weeds are free of seeds they can go into your compost pile. After a drenching rain is an especially good time to pull weeds by hand, and to use the fishtail weeder to pry up taproots for the least soil disturbance. If the soil is dry, use a sharp slicing tool to slice off weeds just below ground level rather than a hoe because there will be less soil disturbance.

If the weeds get ahead of you and start to form seed heads, you can cut off the seed heads so they do not have the chance to go to seed. When the seed head is removed the weed will try to regrow a new seed head. This will force the weed to use up its food reserves to make a new seed head and help exhaust their food reserve to their root system. You can also use a string trimmer equipped with a blade to cut down prickly thistles or brambles and eliminate weeds.

Another way to block the light supply to weeds is by close plant spacing. The spacing of plants is based on the idea of the plants just touching one another when they reach maturity. If you reduce this spacing by 25 percent, your plants will be closer and tighter and the gaps between plants will reduce the light available for weeds to grow. This will also reduce the air flow through your garden so plants that are prone to downy mildew (such as bee balm and phlox) may become infected with it.

Water only your plants not the whole garden. If possible use drip irrigation or soaker hoses around your plants and water only your plants and not the weeds scattered around the whole garden. Depriving weeds of water reduces weed-seed germination by 50 to 70 percent. Try to enrich you soil with organic matter and fertilizer often. Soil scientists aren't sure how it works, but fewer weed seeds germinate in healthy soil that contains fresh infusion of good compost or organic matter.

Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka, and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The Pioneer Journal and the Echo Press are both owned by Forum Communications Company.