Getting Ahead of Your Weeds This Summer
Spring showers bring summer....weeds?
In much of the country, Spring is the season of renewal and rebirth as Mother Nature shakes off her Winter blanket and begins the first steps towards a green, lush summer. As Spring rains soften up the soil and the soil warms up, green buds and shoots pop out of the ground with amazing speed, bringing smiles to the faces of many gardeners.
The downside of this is that EVERYTHING starts growing, whether you want it to or not! Seeds and roots of your local weed mob have been dormant...lurking...waiting for this moment to take hold in your garden. Weeds are a continuous problem for new and seasoned gardeners alike, but there are some basic things you can do to keep weeds at bay.
So....what is a weed, anyway?
First, let's get one thing settled: what are weeds? To many gardeners, this is an easy question: a weed is anything growing where you don't want it to be. That's it. Many plants in your garden will reseed themselves - sometimes very vigorously - which can be either good or bad depending on what you are personally looking for in your garden. These new seedlings are called volunteers. Many gardeners welcome volunteers since it means less money spent on new plants at the garden center and less time laboring in the garden!
However, any plants growing where you really don't want them is a weed, even if you love that particular plant and have it elsewhere in your garden, such as the wisteria above. Of course, you have the option to move it to a new home in your garden where it may be a better fit. Another great idea is to dig it up and give it to a friend or coworker! My coworkers and I have saved a lot of money trading plants from our overgrown gardens!
However, if you have noxious weeds starting to take root (pun intended) in your garden, there are some steps that are fairly easy to take to help minimize the problem, and doing these things consistently will ensure fewer weed problems year after year.
Get as much of the root out as you possibly can
This rule applies to every type of weed, but I'll use dandelions as an example. I happen to like dandelions quite a lot and don't mind their little pop of color in my lawn. However, there are times I need to pull them, which can be difficult as this is one weed that relies on a taproot. A taproot is a very long root that goes straight down, sometimes 6 inches or more depending on the plant. Occasionally dandelion taproots will split in two or three, but often there is just one.
If you grab a dandelion plant at ground level below its leaves and pull, 90% of the time the plant will break off and leave the taproot behind, and you will have a new plant growing there within a week. If you're lucky and the ground is loose and moist, you can get part of the taproot like I did above, but trying to remove them this way is not ideal.
However, you don't have to dig them, either! For around $10, you can get a dandelion weeder, basically a forked piece of metal with a handle, that you can stick in the ground parallel to the taproot, cut it 6-7 inches below ground level, and then pull up the entire plant leaving very little root behind. For between $20-30, you can get one that has a long handle and you don't even have to get on the ground!
I have found this tool to be invaluable for weeds with taproots and would highly recommend it, but be sure you get a sturdy one; cheaper ones can sometimes bend, making them less efficient.
Reduce the energy going to the root by pulling weeds often
You can't always get the roots out successfully. In my part of the country, we are cursed with a type of thistle (above) whose roots run parallel to the surface and branch out, putting up shoots every few inches. If the ground is compact, the shoot will come out easily and bring maybe 4 inches of root with it, but the rest will stay underground and will produce another shoot within a few days.
With weeds like this you must commit to pulling the new shoots every 4-5 days like clockwork. This will, over time, minimize the amount of energy going to the root and it will eventually kill the root. Otherwise, the new shoot will feed the root, the root will continue to grow and spread, and your problems will just spread with them.
Do not let it go to seed at all costs!
The rule of (green) thumb in gardening is "one year's seeds is seven years' weeds." If you let one weed go to seed, you will be dealing with those weed seedlings for nearly the next 10 years!
We have an invasive variety of morning glory in our neck of the woods and had I known this rule when it first made an appearance, I would have saved hours of hot, gritty work. As it turned out, those morning glories took over a large section of our property. The narrow-leaf plantain (above) is another good example of this. These will spread everywhere if given the chance.
Even if you can't take the time to pull weeds, roots and all, take the time to cut or snap flowers off the plant. You will be saving yourself years of weeding!
Minimize where weeds can take root
Areas of bare soil with good sunlight are just asking for a weed problem. There are two things you can do to minimize this issue.
Mulch well. It doesn't have to be anything frilly or expensive, so long as the mulch is deep enough. Grass cuttings work fine, especially in a vegetable garden! If the seed sprouts and doesn't find sunlight quickly enough, it dies. Most garden experts recommend at least 3 inches of mulch.
Plant groundcover. Fill in the open spaces in the garden so weeds can't take hold. There are good groundcovers for almost any area - soggy, dry, full sun, and full shade. Make sure you pick a good one, and understand it will take time to fill in completely.
Know your weeds!
It's important to get to know the weeds common to your area in order to properly address the problems they bring to the party. Every region has its own pesky weeds, but every region also has its own group of seasoned gardeners that have been handling those weeds for a long time! For more information, find out about your local agricultural extension office and contact them for information.
Easy methods to reduce problem weeds
To sum up, there are a few things you can do that will help reduce weed problems:
- Get as much of the root out as you possibly can.
- Reduce the energy going to the root by pulling weeds often.
- Do not let it go to seed at all costs!
- Minimize where weeds can take root.
- Know your weeds!
Taking these steps early and consistently will go a long way to creating a beautiful, weed-free garden you can enjoy for years to come!