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From Our Garden: Battling that garden takeover — weeds
Numerous things in life can consume our brains and hands, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. An untended summer garden is one such example, where the weeds can take over quicker than you can possibly pull them.As the old adage goes, there are two things in life that are certain — taxes and death. Well, the new adage should have weeds lumped in there, too, as they regularly return with impeccable certainty and annoying tenacity. But even if they get ahead of you, keep in mind that there are many good ways to control weeds in your garden.Paying attention is the first step. Never forget that growing a garden is a daily commitment, especially during the hottest months. Checking on our seasonal beds regularly helps us to monitor weeds, water, plant health and detect predators. It also gives us a chance to enjoy the growth, blooms and progression of our plants while we tend to these garden chores. Pulling weeds every time we walk through our garden is one of the best ways to keep things tidy and in check.To avoid the summer battle with weeds, preventing weeds before they germinate is perhaps the best solution for weed control. This can be achieved a few ways — primarily through pre-emergent herbicides and physical soil barriers. Pre-emergents prevent seeds from germinating by creating a barrier on top of the soil. They’re most often a granular product that is broadcast or sprinkled over soil. An all natural choice is corn gluten, which is the active ingredient in a few organic brands such as Espoma.Landscape fabric or weed barrier is another option for weed prevention. Sold in varying lengths and widths, this fabric is laid flat and cut to allow space for seedlings or perennials. I’ve seen it most often used between rows or beds, as a way to keep weeds from encroaching into planting areas. Keep in mind that these methods of prevention are best done at the start of the planting season, though.In my 20 years of gardening, I’ve found that a thick layer of mulch has been the best method for battling weeds. Although options vary on the medium, my experience has made it very clear that mulch helps significantly to suppress the many various weeds that tend to sprout in my beds.I use single and double ground hardwood mulch for my landscape beds, natural areas and perennial borders. And I don’t skimp on the thickness, either. Spreading a thick layer of mulch adds so much to its effectiveness, smothering out weeds and discouraging seeds from finding their way down into the soil. Weeds thrive in areas of bare ground, simply because it’s free and easy real estate. When there’s a good layer of mulch between soil and sunlight, there’s a far smaller chance of weed growth.In my vegetable garden, I have nine raised beds with pathways in between. I don’t mulch the raised beds, but instead, I mulch the pathways. I use wheat straw as my pathway mulch, which most gardeners profess to love or hate. I love using straw, because it significantly cuts down on weed growth, keeps things tidy, and composts nicely. My husband doesn’t care for it, though, as he thinks it contains weed seeds which only adds to the problem.The bottom line, is that wheat straw mulch does much more good than harm. Of course the baled straw probably contains some weed seeds, but not enough to matter. I always have way more weeds sprouting around the outer most edge of my vegetable garden than I do in the interior pathways. This is a clear indication of the effectiveness of a thick layer of straw to combat weeds.Having the right tools is a must have for battling summer weeds. A variety of garden hoes do the trick, as do a few good handheld tools. A regular paddle garden hoe has a rectangular head that is perfect for chopping out weeds by the roots. Onion hoes are similar, but have a smaller head — they’re better for eradicating weeds out of tight spaces.The best hoe for shallow-rooted weeds is a scuffle hoe, which has a looped head like a saddle stirrup (which is why a scuffle is also referred to as a stirrup hoe). One of my favorite tools, the scuffle is great for quick weed removal, as it hooks out roots with its looped head.A double-sided cultivator hoe is a must have for any gardener, and has been my go-to hand tool for years. This tool is perfect for flat, matting weeds like crabgrass, which can often be hard to remove with a long handle hoe.Of course, spraying herbicides is always an option for battling weeds. There are many chemical and more natural products available, all of which help us to stay ahead of the weeds in our gardens. For more information about the proper use and safety of spraying herbicides, call your local extension office.Although I may sound like a broken record, staying on top of weeding is the best way to win the battle with summer weeds in our gardens. If you go a week without paying attention to or ignoring what’s creeping up around your tomatoes, you may find yourself spending long hours in the garden mitigating the problem. Although we must live with weeds, we can find a way to live with fewer of them in our gardens.Amy Dixon is an assistant horticulturist at Reynolda Gardens of Wake Forest University. Gardening questions or story ideas can be sent to her at www.facebook.com/WSJAmyDixon or [email protected], with “gardening” in the subject line.
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