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SKIP RICHTER: Reviving a 'lost cause' spring garden for fall
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For weed-infested areas, a combination of newspaper and mulch can cause weeds to die and prevent weed seeds from sprouting into new weeds.
If your garden area looks like this, all is not yet lost. Try eradicating weeds, watering the area thoroughly and applying layers of newspaper and mulch.
If your garden spot has become a weed-infested wilderness where even the family cat fears to tread, now is the time to clean up your act! Your options are: Move to a new home.Enlist the Air Force to do a napalm fly-over.Foolishly take on the weeds yourself with a rototiller, knife (to cut the entangled weeds off the tines), and the patience of Job.Give up gardening until next spring.Or you can try what I’m about to suggest.￼Eradicate perennial weeds: Check the garden area for perennial weeds such as nutgrass, bermudagrass or Johnsongrass. Perennial weeds should be destroyed by hand-digging or with an appropriate herbicide application. Such persistent weeds must be eliminated or they will continue to take over the garden. You can either deal with them now or put things off to deal with a greater problem later.￼Take it to the ground: Remove any stakes, wire cages or other debris from the garden and mow the weeds to the ground. A weedeater works great for smaller areas. This is fast and much simpler than pulling or hand hoeing.￼Wet the area thoroughly: Once you’ve cut the jungle down to the ground, water the spot well to soak the soil 6 inches deep. This should take about an inch of water and may require two or three applications to avoid runoff in the process. Use a rain gauge or straight-sided container to determine how long you need to run the sprinkler.￼Mulch with newspaper: Unfold sections of newspaper and place them, four to six sheets thick, over the planting beds. Overlap the edges of the newspaper as you lay it to make sure no sunlight will reach the ground. Have a hose and spray nozzle on hand to wet the paper with water as you lay each section to prevent it from blowing away as you work. There isn’t a concern with using newsprint in the gardens. Red wriggler worms thrive in bins filled with shredded and moistened newspaper as bedding. Slick paper sections are OK to use as well, as are colored prints, but I find the smaller sections more tedious to lay out than full pages. The only part of the paper you may not want to use is the top half of the Friday gardening page, since like manures, the excess nitrogen can cause problems for plants!￼Mulch over the newspaper: Cover the newspaper with leaves, pine needles, a 1-inch layer of grass clippings, a 1-inch layer of mulch or spent hay from a pasture that was not treated for broadleaf weed and/or brush control. This helps hide the paper and hold it in place. This process is fast and quite easy and works like a charm. What was a hideous mess standing as a monument to neglect can in a jiffy become a beautiful mulched bed, a tribute to your faithful diligent care of the garden!Turning weeds into plant foodIn a couple of weeks, most of the weeds beneath the paper will be dying or dead, along with the surface debris from mowing them down on its way to decomposing to release its nutrients back into the soil.In the moist, warm darkness beneath the mulch, the weeds will die and weed seeds won’t be able to sprout into new weeds. In a few weeks, the weedy remains will be well on their way to decomposing beneath the paper mulch, returning their nutrients to the soil, a fitting ending for a weed.Earthworms will come to the surface to pull the organic matter into their tunnels while the roots of the dead weeds will also provide aeration channels into the soil, improving its condition for plant growth.Planting timeWhen it is time to plant, set transplants through holes which are easily torn in the paper, or drop in seeds and cover them with a little compost or rich garden soil. Your weed problems will be largely eliminated for the duration of the fall and winter season, and you’ll be pleased with the way your plants grow.By next spring, the paper will be virtually all decomposed if a mulch of leaves, hay or pine needles is maintained over it. You can rototill it in then if you wish, or just repeat the paper and mulch process over the old paper remains for spring.You don’t need an overgrown jungle of a garden to use these tips. I’ve used the newspaper and mulch when putting in a new flower planting in a bed with bare soil.If you think weedy garden beds must be hoed or pulled before replanting, this technique may sound unconventional, but it works. Give it a try!Robert “Skip” Richter is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulture agent for Brazos County. For local gardening information and events, visit brazosmg.com. Gardening questions? Call Skip at 823-0129 or email [email protected]
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