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How do I Control Weeds in my Garden?

Weeds... what’s a weed?

What is a weed anyway? In college, the definition we went by was basically a weed is a plant out of place. Weeds are plants after all. A weed therefore is subjective to one’s perception of beauty. One person’s weed is another’s wild flower. Before, you go out this spring and start ripping out any vegetation that pokes its head up out of the ground, you might want to make sure you’re not about to remove a day lily or black eyed susan.

What about Weed Barriers?

Isn’t black plastic, or a weed fabric the best form of weed  prevention? Absolutely!... for about 4 weeks. Then it slowly becomes your worst nightmare. The problem with plastic is that once you lay it down, you have now eliminated any capacity for water to percolate through the soil. Not a good thing if you’re trying to grow PLANTS. DON’T USE BLACK PLASTIC!...EVER! Weed fabrics solve that problem because they are ... well... fabric, Water can seep through. So great, problem solved! Smother any weeds, and allow water to get to my plants. Exactly Right! BUT..., guess what? You did a great job of killing all the weeds underneath the fabric. You now have a preventative barrier so that seeds can’t germinate, and vegetative weeds can’t grow either. GREAT JOB! But what happens from this point on? You’re going to cover that fabric up.. right? You’re not going to spend thousands of dollars on landscaping plants and look at an ugly weed barrier surrounding your prized design? Of course not. You’re going to cover that fabric with mulch. Why? Because mulch looks beautiful and you need it to retain moisture for your plants, minimize erosion, as well as to protect the roots in the winter.

So what’s the problem? The problem is you just created a new breeding ground for your next crop of weeds. This process begins the day you spread it out. You see, your surrounding environment is part of God’s wonderful design for our planet. WE NEED PLANTS TO LIVE. God knows that. That’s why weeds (plants) will always be there, to help keep us alive. Weed seeds will blow into your beautiful mulch bed no matter what you do. Birds will also spread some weeds around for you. So what? I’ve got fabric to keep them from growing. No you don’t. I’ll tell you what all that hard work did for you. It guaranteed even harder work in the not so distant future. So enjoy the first few weeks while you can. Those weeds will root right through that fabric. Why? ... Because God is smarter than we are. Fibrous roots will grow through a pin hole, and guess what you have then?... A complete mess, getting worse by the day. Have you ever tried to pull weeds that are rooted through a fabric as well as the earth beneath? Take it from me, it’s an utter nightmare! So not only will you have as many weeds as you had before, now removing them is harder than ever! Solution... Deal with it or tear it up! Better solution.... DON’T EVER USE WEED BARRIERS OF ANY KIND!...EVER!

Other Preventative Measures

 You can’t beat God’s design, nor can you change it. You can work with it however. I’m not going to get into the whole organic side of prevention in this article. I’m green at heart, but it requires a whole article in itself. To be honest, the organic methods don’t work very well and most people want to know what works the best so I’m dedicating this article to exactly that.

So, what can we do? The best preventative measure to take is a multi faceted approach.. The first idea is to design for maximum plant cover, to allow for minimal weed cover. Weeds are plants right? What do plants need to survive? The same thing we need... food, water, and sunlight. Step one is to plant ground covers, perennials and such in all the spaces where there are no trees or shrubs, and all around those trees and shrubs. Our goal is to create competition. We want our desirable plants to consume as much food, sunlight, and water as possible so our undesirable plants (weeds), will have a tuff time getting started.

On to step two. We want to properly water our desirable plants, and everything else that keeps them healthy and thriving, including fertilizing, pruning, and pulling (uuuuugh) what weeds do come in. If you follow the guidelines and tips on this page, the pulling is nowhere near as bad as you might be accustomed to without these tips.

Step Three: Back to mulching. Spreading 2”-3” of mulch around desirable plants will help to hinder weed growth because we will be starving existing weed seeds of sunlight. Mulching won’t have much of an effect on weeds that spread vegetativley however, but we’ll take advantage of any “benefits” we get. This is again part of a multi faceted approach.

Step Four: Chemicals. What can I treat the ground with to kill weed seeds but not kill my plants? Answer- Pre-emergent herbicides. What does that mean? Pre(before) emergent (changing from seed stage to plant stage- ermerging from ground) herbicide- plant killing chemical. So, we have a chemical that prevents the weed seeds from germinating. These chemicals will not kill weeds that have already germinated. So timing is critical. You want to apply to beds just before the growing season begins. Usually in mid March for zone 7, and then again in early summer to help reduce summer annuals. Pre-emergents will not kill most plants, yet they can harm some plants. You must read the labels carefully on how to properly apply. What a great thing? A quick ticket to never weeding again. Nope. Weeds will still come, just not as many. Nothing will allow your plants to stay healthy and kill ALL weeds. The idea is to minimize the weeding process. This step alone will go along way to do just that.

The Few that Survive

What do I do with the few weeds that make it? Pull em. Sorry, there is no magic pill in life. However, we now have nowhere near the job we would have had without following these tips. The key is to get them early, before they have a chance to turn into monsters. Shallow rooted weeds are not a big problem. We’ll make the job easier by using a hand trowel to help us capture the roots, and we’ll water the heck out of the beds the day before to soften the soil. I mean allot of water. Use your irrigation system if you have one, or buy a good sprinkler. You’d be amazed how easy the pulling is when done early, with a trowel, in a water softened bed.

In conclusion

Weeds are plants we don’t want. Lets do what it takes to plant the plants we want and keep them healthy, so we can naturally discourage the ones we don’t want. RETURN THE WEED MATS & BLACK PLASTIC! We want less headaches, not more. Use pre-emergents at the appropriate time according to label PREEN is a well known excellent product that you can buy from almost any hardware store. Soften that ground & catch em early! Great news- If you follow these steps, your weeding will decrease every season, especially as your desirable ground covers take over, AND, your mulching bill will slowly disappear because your plants will now fill the voids to where there is no more room for mulch.

Happy Weeding.

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