by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
What is a weed? People have different views on what is and is not a weed. I see mullein as a beautiful plant with its fuzzy, silvery leaves and tiny yellow flowers. I like to use them in my landscape around my potting shed. My farmer husband however, sees it as a weed growing along the edge of his corn field. Basically, you could define a weed as a plant that is growing where you don’t want it to be.
Every square inch of your garden contains weed seeds. They can remain dormant for a long time and each time you work the soil, that process brings those seeds to the surface where they can germinate. According to the Purdue Extension website, one dandelion plant can produce 15,000 seeds in one year, and even worse, each seed is capable of surviving up to six years in the soil.
Plants live on light and seeds need light to germinate, so covering them with a material that blocks out the light will cause them to die. Using mulch around plants is very beneficial in your war against weeds. Not only will it smother wana-be weeds, it will also help the soil retain moisture and stay cooler during the hot summer months. Two to four inches of straw, grass clippings or shredded bark can be used as mulch in the garden. Layers of newspaper or cardboard topped with some straw has proven to be a very effective weed barrier in years past for me. As a bonus, a natural mulch will compost and add humus to the soil. Grass that has been treated with a pesticide or herbicide should not be used.
A sheet of plastic is another mulching alternative. Using plastic tends to warm the soil so it is best used around warm season vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, melons and peppers. For larger areas, a shallow pass with the cultivator now and then will keep weeds at bay. Then there is the option of hand pulling the weeds. This is easiest done while they are still small and pulled just after a rain. It is important to get as much of the root as possible. This can be accomplished by grasping the weed as close to the ground as possible. Sometimes a little hand spade action helps to loosen the soil around the root. As this is not my favorite chore, I will mulch the daylights out of my garden so those nasty seeds do not see a speck of sun.
Certain herbicides can be used to prevent germination of weed seeds, while another type can be applied to weeds while they are growing. It is very important to read the product label when choosing an herbicide. Some are labeled for use on certain vegetable crops, some are only for specific ornamental plants and others have a tendency to drift from what you want to target. There is no “one size fits all” herbicide. If you are used to using a certain product for a number of years, check the current label listing as plants can be added or deleted over time.
It is recommended to only use herbicides for spot treatment or for use on a specific crop.
At the end of the gardening season, plant a cover crop to prevent weeds from gaining a foothold in the bare soil in your garden. In the end the best and environmentally friendly control option is to use mulch and/or cultivation.
As always, Happy Gardening!!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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