By Joyce Hylton, Extension Master Gardener
The minister began the sermon by asking how many in the congregation were gardeners. Then the minister asked what was the first thing they saw when they walked into their gardens. Silence … followed by the obvious answer … weeds! To many of us their very existence seems to ruin an otherwise beautiful scene, leading to countless hours grousing about and cursing their existence. Not to mention the physical labor and money expended in our weed-fighting efforts.
Fortunately, like weeds, hope springs eternal. And there is hope. It really is possible to diminish the footprint of these intruders in our gardens and lawns with a little preparation, a bit of persistence, a few ‘special’ tools and some tolerance.
Be forewarned, weed seeds are always present, just waiting for the opportunity to reach sunlight. A case in point, the seed of ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) can last up to 80 years in the soil.
Simple Steps for Better Weed Control
Mulch – In the fall as you put your garden to bed, consider covering it with a layer of newspaper topped with an inch or so of leaf mulch. When spring arrives there will be fewer weeds to pull. A light mulch after the plants are growing will continue to deter weeds.
Proper Lawn Care – Lawns, too, can be somewhat weed free. Refer to these excellent publications for further advice:
Hand Weeding – Hand weeding is a viable alternative to a chemical onslaught. The tools pictured above offer low-tech ways for attacking individual weeds. Although time-consuming, hand weeding is environmentally friendly and a great stress reliever.
The tools pictured above have similar functions but slightly specialized uses. The screwdriver, forked weeder, and trowel are great for weeds with deep roots such as dandelions and white mulberry. On the other hand, the paring knife is great for violets and similarly shallow-rooted weeds.
Organic Herbicides – The golden powder in the picture is corn gluten. It is an organic preemergent herbicide AND a fertilizer. It is somewhat effective when used as directed; however, remember you will be fertilizing as well as preventing seeds from germinating. With that understanding, it is a useful tool in your arsenal.
Inorganic Herbicides – If a chemical must be used, cylinders in various lengths help isolate a weed so that a herbicide such as glyphosate can be applied with minimal impact on the environment. Four-inch PVC sewer pipe is inexpensive and easily cut to varying lengths. However, any cylinder such as a coffee can or oatmeal box with its bottom removed is just as effective.
Problem Vine – If the problem weed is a vine growing in a shrub or other difficult to reach area, do the following. Insert a tall stake into the ground near the vine. Encourage the vine to wrap around the stake and climb beyond the shrub. Next, place an open-ended newspaper sleeve over the post and vine, tying it at the bottom of the sleeve. You now have an enclosed area in which to spray the herbicide with minimal impact on the environment. This is more effective if done early in the growing season. In addition, though seemingly contrary to usual practice, a lightly fertilized weed will grow faster thereby enabling herbicides to be more effective.
Take the time to get to know the weeds in your garden and lawn on a first name, first sight basis. Weeds of the Northeast by Richard Uva, et al. (Comstock Books) is an excellent reference.
Finally, before using any herbicide, which should never be your first line of defense, you should be very familiar with what it is, how it works, all cautions as to its use, how to apply it properly and how to store it. Also, know the name of the weed you wish to eliminate. Here are some important VCE references to use when considering the use of an herbicide: