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Controlling Weeds in 6 Easy Steps

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If you have a garden, you will also have weeds. In reality, weeds are just plants out of place. This does not change the fact that these plants will steal nutrients and water from the plants that you are growing. Ultimately, weeds will take over unless you employ a full-on weed management plan. Here are six easy steps to help you get your weeds under control so that you can enjoy your garden.

Leave sleeping weeds to their slumber

Even though you can’t see them, there are sleeping weed seeds all over your lawn and garden. These seeds that are on the top inch or two of soil get just enough light to bring on germination. When you dig and cultivate this soil, you will bring weed seeds up from the deep. Every time you disturb the ground, you are creating an opportunity for weeds to erupt like volcanoes. The key here is to dig only when you need to immediately fill in the disturbed spot with plants or mulch to plug the weed escape route. Use a sharp knife to slash through roots of dandelions and other weeds that pop up in your grass. If you start digging to get them out, you will disturb the sleeping weeds.

Mulch generously

Mulch is a gardener’s best friend. It not only keeps the soil moist and cool but also prevents light from getting to the weeds. Use organic mulch if you can, as this will host crickets and carabid beetles that will seek out and eat thousands of weed seeds. Replenish your mulch often and keep it about 2 inches deep. If you add more than 3 inches, you can deprive the soil of much-needed oxygen. When you are first creating garden beds, use a light-blocking sheet of cardboard, newspaper, or biodegradable fabric and cover this with mulch. 

Weed at the right time

Weeds are best pulled after a drenching rain when you can pull them up roots and all. Use an old table fork or a fishtail weeder to pry up weeds. When conditions are dry, slice weeds just below the soil line and cover areas with mulch.

Off with their heads

If you can’t remove weeds, the next best thing is to chop off their heads. Deadheading annual weeds early will help keep them at bay for quite some time. Chopping the tops off perennial weeds, including bindweed, will help minimize reseeding and force them to use up food stores and root buds, limiting their spread. Use sharp pruning loppers for weeds like ragweed and a string trimmer with a blade attachment for pokey thistles or brambles. The best rule of thumb to control weed seed spread is to cut weeds before they go to seed.

Water plants, not weeds

Depriving weeds of water is one sure way to suppress their spread. Using a drip or soaker hose under the mulch will irrigate plants while leaving nearby weeds dying of thirst. In most climates, depriving weeds of water will reduce germination by 50 to 70 percent. You have to be careful, however, of perennial weeds, like bindweed and nutsedge that are deeply rooted and will grow like crazy with even the slightest bit of water. 

Pay careful attention to the gaps between plants

The tightest planted gardens are the ones with the fewest weeds. Pack your garden as tightly as you can to shade the soil and keep weeds from growing up in between plants. Pre-plan any new gardens with tight planting in mind to keep weeds down from the start. One thing to pay careful attention to is that spacing guidelines are often based on the assumption that mature plants won’t touch each other. It is best to stick to these guidelines when working with plants that are likely to get a foliar disease like phloxes and bee balms.

Takeaway

Employing the strategies above and enriching your soil with rich organic matter will help keep your garden free and clear. Keep in mind that the success of any garden and the strength of it to fight off weeds begins with healthy soil. Pay attention to the foundation of your garden, and weeds are likely to push off to another space (hopefully not in your yard!)

-Susan Patterson

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