When we bought our place 20 plus years ago, we had weeds the size of shade trees! Thistle with its beautiful flower heads quickly going to seed, rag weed that was much taller than me by 4 foot easily, tumble weeds, the kind you would only see in the old western movies blowing on the abandoned streets and bind weed, a familiar name of wild morning-glory, mind you, many did and do think it has the prettiest flowers and let it grow along fence-lines only to become a severe noxious (or in my terms, nauseating) weed.
The definition of a weed is any plant that grows in a place where it is not wanted. We laugh about dill. It have become a weed in my garden over the last few years, but certainly more tolerable then bind weed or crabgrass. We can at least make good use out of it! There are different types of weeds and knowing which weed you have will help your weed control become more effective. Annual weeds germinated, flower, and seed in one season. Biennial weeds have a life cycle spanning two growing seasons. Ephemeral weeds germinate, flower and seed rapidly, producing several generations each season and copious quantities of seed to boot! Perennial weeds survive for several years. They often spread through the soil as they grow, producing many new shoots and setting seed. New plants spout from tiny fragments of root, rhizome, or bulbils in the soil. I would have to say, these are the hardest of all to get rid of! Bind weed, which is close to one of the worse weeds we had to deal with. It can have a root system 20 foot deep or more. When pulling this one I always insisted that there had to be someone on the other side of the world yanking on the same weed!
There are four main methods of control. Manual, mechanical, mulching, and chemical. While we have stirred clear of the latter, there has been more than once that I threatened those weeds to the point, I think they may have move down the road. But truly we have spent many a manual hours pulling diligently. Manual weeding is done with digging, forking, hoeing and hand weeding. Perennial weeds should be removed and not buried or they will just reroot and grow again with vengeance. Although it is very hard to remove all portions of the root system, eventually they will become weak and die out. Mind you, this won’t happen over one season and you have to keep after it! Annual, ephemeral, and biennial weeds are quicker to grow during a season, but if you are very diligent about not letting them go to seed, you will eradicate many of them over a few years. I say a few years because weed seeds can live in the soil without germinating for years. When the ground is tilled and/or watered, weed seed start new generations. We got a goose for controlling weeds and while ‘Poppy’ has kept our clover down in the orchard, he really prefers the tomatoes, grapes and lettuce to spurge and crabgrass. But, hey! He is handsome while doing so! Mulching deeply is a biological weed control. Mulching with weed free mulch will keep weeds at bay. Even perennial weeds will slow. When using freshly chipped wood (tree branches), it will inhibit seed germination, so just remember, use only around established plants and by doing this the chips will rob your soil and plants of nitrogen, so it’s a good idea to sprinkle organic nitrogen such as blood meal before laying down the wood chips. When mulching with straw, make sure it is weed free or you will have loads of new straw growing in no time. Many of times of have bought straw that was ‘weed-free’ only to have my own straw growing amongst my veggies, but straw is much easier to pull than many common weeds. My favorite mulch is just compost! I have plenty and it also feeds the soil and organisms as well. Using a thick layer of newspaper with mulch over the top works great for even tougher weeds. Eventually the newspaper will break down. The only reservation when using newspaper is that it will repel water, so be sure you water deeply near the base of the plant for the first while. Tilling the soil is a mechanical method to help control weeds. While tilling breaks up the roots, rhizomes and bulbils and creates more, it also weakens them if you are once again, diligent. Basically what you are doing is not giving them a real chance to grow. Gradually the weeds will exhaust and kill out. It’s a good idea to rake the soil and remove as many plant parts as possible. Chemical weed control is the use of herbicides. While there are natural and organic weed ‘killers’ that are safe to use, they will not kill off perennial weeds, only suppress them. Of course synthetic weed killer will only suppress perennial weeds also without numerous spraying! Because we organic garden here synthetics are not to be used for our safety of us and the animals that live here, not the mention the mere drifting that you get with any synthetic spray that can kill nearby and even far away plants. A good example is the use of 2-4-D, a herbicide when sprayed when temperatures are above 85 degrees can and will volatilize and burn or even kill yours and your neighbors plants. With a breeze, even when the temperatures are right for spraying it will drift and do the same. We see this often! So, we just like to play it safe and stay away from the synthetic herbicides. Off my soap box….. Using a pre-emergent is another help for gardeners. When using pre-emergents, seed will not germinate for a season. But, (there is always a but!) once the pre-emergent has worn down the seeds will germinate. We use an organic pre-emergent called Corn Weed Blocker in our corn once it has grown to 6″. Never apply to newly planted seed beds, it does inhibit seed germination after all. Corn Weed Blocker will last for about 8 weeks on annual weeds if they have not geminated already. Corn Weed Blocker also is high in nitrogen, so it does double duty of feeding and blocking new weeds. I never use other in-organic pre-emergents in my gardens.
Although there is no great answer to weed control, you will see by not letting weeds get out-of-control is the best control of all. Spend a little time a couple of times a week walking through your spread, pulling weeds while they are small will be a wealth of help down the road. Besides, this is a great time to enjoy a stroll through the garden you may otherwise not do!