Each spring, enthusiastic gardeners begin their year with delight at the prospect of growing the vegetables they have carefully selected over winter, and maintaining a beautiful landscape. Planting day is accomplished with energy and hope, young plants start to grow with great potential of yielding bountiful produce, and then the weeds start to grow. Smiles fade, enthusiasm wanes and the drudgery of weed control begins — not to mention the potential effects of other insect or disease pests. So, while the joy of gardening is a real thing, and the title of a book or two, weed control has taken the proverbial wind out of many a gardener’s sails.
You may be thinking I’ll make a recommendation for a magical herbicide that can be sprayed anytime and will kill all the weeds and leave all garden plants alone. No, sorry.
Dr. Rosie Lerner, Purdue consumer horticulture specialists, co-authored an Extension publication entitled, “Weed Control for the Garden and Landscape.” Lerner wrote that the best strategies for controlling weeds include mulching, hand-pulling, using tools such as the hoe and rototiller, and preventing existing weeds from going to seed.
“Mulching around plants will go a long way toward reducing the ability of weeds to cause problems,” Lerner said. “Organic mulches tend to cool the soil, as well as conserve soil moisture and reduce weed germination.” Lerner suggested using such organic materials as chipped or shredded bark, straw, hay, grass clippings and pine needles. Plastic mulch for warm season vegetables, and landscape fabric in landscape plantings can also be used.
“Don’t underestimate the power of your bare hands (well, make that gloved hands)!” she said. Young weeds are very easy to pull, especially during or just after a rain.”
There are many different weeding tools to choose from, and each gardener has their favorite. I have even seen some homemade inventions that work pretty well. Larger gardens may require a rototiller. Shallow cultivation is recommended for weed control to avoid bringing deeply buried weed seed to the surface, allowing germination and growth of a new crop of weeds.
Part of your attack plan is to prevent weeds from going to seed, because weeds have tremendous seed production capacity. “For example, a single dandelion plant can produce 15,000 seeds in one year, and each seed is capable of surviving for up to six years in the soil,” Lerner said. “So, it is in your best interest to stay ahead of the weeds!”
In some cases, herbicides may be part of the solution, but keep in mind that certain herbicides may only work with certain garden plants. For example, selective herbicides for sweet corn may not work on green beans. “Selective” basically means that they kill certain weeds and leave certain crop plants alone.
There are pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides, and limits as to how big weeds can be for post-emergent herbicides to work effectively. There are non-selective herbicides, like glyphosate, that affect any plant they touch. If using herbicides, carefully read and follow all label instructions, and make sure they are labeled for use on or around the plants you are spraying (especially if they are food plants). I have heard more than once of homeowners who have just grabbed a “weed killer” on the garage shelf and sprayed willy-nilly, only to end up with a disaster.
For more information, search for Lerner’s publication at Purdue Extension’s Education Store, edustore.purdue.edu.