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Weed-Free Gardening

So here about mid-season, in the summer garden, the weed pressure can get pretty strong. If you are like me, you tell yourselves, next year, I’ll do better with these weeds.  Well, actually, the time to start on weed prevention is always NOW.

In WNC we’ve had a very wet, cool summer.  Frequent rains have made for easy weeding, which for me is a plus, since I hate struggling with deeply rooted weeds when the ground is dry and hard.  So if you have similar conditions where you are, enjoy those rainy, cooler days to pull the weeds that seem like perennial powerhouses (can you say Curly Dock, anyone?).

Here’s the catch about weeds.  The number of weeds in your garden is proportional to the number of seeds in your seed bank.  Every garden soil has a seed bank, which is the seed that is in the soil, capable of germinating anytime the conditions are just right.  The seed bank can persist for years and throughout the soil profile so that even turning over the soil can bring seeds to the surface that can then germinate.

I remember once seeing an agricultural soil with MILLIONS of glittering black flecks in it.  I immediately knew I’d never seen a soil with a black fleck like that, small and shiny.  When I inspected it the black flecks revealed themselves to be pigweed seeds, a species of amaranth.   From that perspective, their seed bank was a PROBLEM.  Thank goodness my seeds are relatively invisible; you know, it’s good in an ‘ignorance is bliss’ kind of way.

So how can you begin to address a deep-seeded weed problem? (oh yeah, I meant to write that.)

Firstly, don’t ever let a weed go to seed. Weed seeds are your enemies and any weed with a flower is capable of making seeds.  Some species can make seeds even if you leave them in a pile next to the garden, within 24 hours!  Stress causes them to produce seeds rapidly from whatever ovules are fertilized.  So pull them and Get ‘Em Outta There!!!

Secondly, if you think bare soil makes it easier to weed with a hoe or what not, think again.  Mulch is your FRIEND.  A thick layer of straw mulch does wonders for a garden plagued by crabgrass or pigweed for that matter.  Other materials used for mulch are grass clippings, leaves, wood chips or other organic materials.  Buy high quality, seed free straw to get the best results.

Learn your weeds and their seedlings.  If you keep a neat garden it is easier to tell which are weed seeds and which are YOUR seeds.  Queen Anne’s Lace and carrot seedlings are nearly indistinguishable, so keeping things in order helps.

Think ahead and keep your weed seeds out of the compost.  If the flowering weed species can make seeds in 24 hours then that means they can go right in your compost only to be spread out again when the time comes to use your black gold.  So while we are at it, weed those little suckers before they get big enough to flower, then compost away!

Finally, a good hand tool like a hoe, hand held hoe or bear’s claw is useful for weeding efficiently when time and energy are at a premium.  Remember always to try to get the ROOT otherwise you’ll get your weeds growing back in no time.  Shake loose the soil so you don’t haul off your hard work.  By the way, did you know if you weed horse nettle from BENEATH the soil line there are no thorns? This juicy tidbit makes horse nettle a whole new beast.

If you are interested in a weed identification guide, the University of Virginia has a great website, click here.  North Carolina State University also has a good identification website with information on how to identify many weeds based on their characteristics, both broadleaves and grasses, here.

Good luck and may the late summer weeds never go to seed on you!


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