Battle tactics for attacking weeds: strike early and often – The Santa Rosa Press Democrat


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May 13, 2022, 10: 24AM
Updated 56 minutes ago

Weeds and weed management are an inescapable aspect of gardening life. In Sonoma County there are 195 different species, a large number of which inhabit our various gardens.
Weeds have many faces and forms. Different weeds grow in each season and are adapted to specific climates. There are annual spring weeds like the prolific small grass Poa annua and summer weeds like the vigorous and tall pigweed (Amaranth) and perennial weeds like buckhorn plantain. Some bulbs are weeds like the troublesome yellow-flowered Oxalis that is so hard get rid of.
Weeds also have soil preferences. Some are found in clay soil while others prefer well-drained and dry soil. Others like it moist or even compacted like dock and plantain.
Weeds root very differently, too. While some have extensive shallow fibrous roots from stems that root on the soil surface such as the springtime henbit (that hens avidly consume) and chickweed (that some people consume), others like mallow have very strong tap roots.
Weeds spread by different means. There are types that spread via underground rhizomes, such as Bermuda grass while others travel by burrs that adhere to our clothing or dog’s fur like California burclover. Hairy bittercress has exploding seedpods that propel seeds into our eyes and far distances.
Many of us are familiar with seeds that travel by floating fairly-like through the air from weeds like dandelions but there are others with similar airborne but less spectacular seed dispersal mechanisms. These include groundsel, spiny sowthistle or prickly lettuce. Weeds are usually not native plants and some of our garden plants can have weedy tendencies within the confines of our yards if conditions are right.
Get to know your weeds
With all the different weeds and weed types present in the area and in and around our gardens, how to we manage them to minimize the numbers and prevent further spread?
It can be helpful and even interesting to get to know your garden weeds. A good statewide resource is the UCANR UC IPM Weed Photo Gallery with the Statewide IPM Program. IPM stands for integrated pest management, a way of controlling garden and agricultural pests by managing insect populations naturally. This resource includes many, but not all, weed species commonly found in California farms and landscapes.
A handy 630-page reference book is “Weeds of the West” by Thomas Wilson published by the Western Society of Weed Science. Each entry has color photos, an extensive description, details where the weedy plant is from, where it grows and other pertinent information. Some of the plants are native but are considered undesirable in certain locations like hayfields or pastures. Turning its pages will reveal many familiar faces. For those interested in plants and ecosystems it is a good book to have on hand.
A perpetually weed-free garden or environment does not exist. While you can keep your garden almost weed free there will always be invaders. Seeds of those that float on the breeze or wind like dandelions or tree of heaven (Ailianthus) will arrive in your yard over time. Spending just a few minutes every couple of weeks going over your garden to look for seedlings will make their removal easy.
There are a number of ways to manage gardens to make weeding easy. Pulling weeds early is crucial. Some weeds like grasses — both annual and perennial — have extensive roots. Pulling them when they are large is far more work than removing them when they are small. Large grasses have extensive root systems and take a lot of soil with them when they are removed. Digging out a small patch of Bermuda grass doesn’t take much time but a big one is a daunting job. Others like mallow, dock and prostrate knotweed have very strong taproots. Removal becomes extremely difficult as the season progresses particularly when the soil is dry.
Catch bedstraw has sticky adherent leaves and stems that cling strongly to gloves and clothing and are very annoying (but not terribly difficult) to remove. Pulling the plants when they are small makes the task much easier. In contrast, the bristly foxtail, Setaria verticillata, a tall summer annual grass has strongly clinging seedheads that adhere permanently to gloves (and even shoelaces) rendering them unwearable and even worse, enmesh themselves in dog’s fur, especially poodles, poodle crosses and long hair breeds like golden retrievers. But the ultimate bad actor when it comes to dog fur is the spiny spiny large seeded common burdock, a native of Europe. Seedheads of both must be cut out of the fur quickly as they effectively tangle hairs together in a dense impenetrable mass down to the skin.

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