Tips For Controlling Weed Growth

After all of the April showers, we will surely have May flowers…and weeds! Take preventative measures now, before they set their roots in to your flower bed. Sweet Basil has collected ideas below and has tried and tested. These ideas not only work, but are much easier (& safer!) than chemicals, blow torches, and even pulling!

LET SLEEPING WEEDS LIE

Kill weeds at their roots but leave the soil—and dormant weed seeds—largely undisturbed.
Every square inch of your garden contains weed seeds, but only those in the top inch or two of soil get enough light to trigger germination. Digging and cultivating brings hidden weed seeds to the surface, so assume weed seeds are there ready to erupt, like ants from an upset anthill, every time you open a patch of ground. Dig only when you need to and immediately salve the disturbed spot with plants or mulch. In lawns, minimize soil disturbance by using a sharp knife with a narrow blade to slice through the roots of dandelions and other lawn weeds to sever their feed source rather than digging them out. Keep in mind that weed seeds can remain dormant for a long, long time.
Some folks say it helps to turn your soil at night to control weeds. Research indicates that weeds may be stimulated to grow by a sudden flash of light, which is what you give them when you turn the soil over during the day. A German study concluded that by turning the soil at night, weed germination could be reduced by as much as 78 percent. You can try this method by working during a moonlit night, or at dawn or dusk.

MULCH, MULCH, MULCH

Don’t give weeds the chance to see the light. Whether you choose wood chips, bark nuggets, straw, or even pine needles, keep the mulch coming to smother out weeds.

Mulch benefits plants by keeping the soil cool and moist and depriving weeds of light. Organic mulches, in particular, can actually host crickets and carabid beetles, which seek out and devour thousands of weed seeds.

Some light passes through chunky mulches, and often you will discover—too late—that the mulch you used was laced with weed seeds. It’s important to replenish the mulch as needed to keep it about 2 inches deep (more than 3 inches deep can deprive soil of oxygen). In any case, you can set weeds way back by covering the soil’s surface with a light-blocking sheet of cardboard, newspaper, or biode­gradable fabric and then spreading prettier mulch over it.

If you choose to use this method on seldom-dug areas, such as the root zones of shrubs and trees, opt for tough landscape fabric for the light-blocking bottom sheet. There is a catch, however: As soon as enough organic matter accumulates on the landscape fabric, weed seeds dropped by birds or carried in on the wind will start to grow. For the bottom layer of fabric to be effective, these must be pulled before they sink their roots through and into the ground.

My favorite way to mulch is to lay newspaper down, wet it, then put down a thick layer of pine straw. I have found that nutsedge and a few other dreadful weeds do not grow as well with pine products. After mulching, using Preen or another pre-emergent is a good idea. It will save a lot of time and energy later. There is even an organic version.

WEED WHEN THE WEEDING’S GOOD

Young weeds go down much easier than older ones, so make the most of good weeding conditions.

The old saying “Pull when wet; hoe when dry” is wise advice when facing down weeds. After a drenching rain, stage a rewarding weeding session by equipping yourself with gloves, a sitting pad, and a tarp for collecting the corpses. As you head out the door, slip an old table fork into your back pocket because there’s nothing better for twisting out tendrils of henbit or chickweed. When going after bigger thugs, use a fishtail weeder or a flathead screwdriver to pry up taprooted weeds, like dandelion or dock.

Under dry conditions, weeds sliced off just below the soil line promptly shrivel up and die, especially if your hoe has a sharp edge. In mulched beds, use an old steak knife to sever weeds from their roots, then patch any open spaces left in the mulch.

LOP OFF THEIR HEADS

Chopping off weed heads feels good and you’ll reap short- and long-term benefits.

When you can’t remove weeds, the next best thing is to chop off their heads. With annual weeds, dead­heading buys you a few weeks of time before the weed “seed rain” begins. Cutting back the tops of perennial weeds, like bindweed, reduces reseeding and forces them to use up food reserves and exhaust their supply of root buds, thus limiting their spread.

You will need pruning loppers to take down towers of ragweed or poke, or you can step up to a string trimmer equipped with a blade attachment to cut prickly thistles or brambles down to nubs. No matter which method you choose, chopping down weeds before they go to seed will help keep them from spreading.

MIND THE GAPS BETWEEN PLANTS

Tightly planted beds leave no room for unwanted visitors.

WATER THE PLANTS YOU WANT, NOT THE WEEDS YOU’VE GOT

Drip irrigation is the way to go for a quick way to water your plants and not your weeds. Watering by hand works, too, but it’s often tedious.

Make sure to keep the edges of your garden mowed; this will help prevent a weed invasion.

If you have chickens or other poultry, goats, rabbits and even pigs, they would welcome the treat of hand picked weeds! Most weeds are full of nutrients that your animals need, especially if you can’t let them free range. Most weeds are safe for animals, just do a google search to make sure the specific weeds you’ve pulled are safe.

HEAT IS THE KEY TO COMPOSTING WEEDS

Few experiences compare to the joy of watching weeds shrivel in the sun after a morning weeding session, but then what should you do with them? Their best resting place, of course, is a compost pile or bin, which is the end of the story if the weeds going in are free of seeds. In reality, however, a good half of the weeds you pull probably hold seeds. Separating the seedies from other weedies is impractical, so weed seeds in compost are customarily killed by raising the temperature in the heap.

Keep it hot. Running a hot heap calls for precise mixing and remixing of materials. Rather than struggle to heat up a heap that wants to run cold, I suggest waiting until a weedy heap reaches a nearly rotted state to set things right. From there, you can solarize small batches of moist compost in black plastic nursery liners that are enclosed in clear plastic bags and placed in the sun for two to three days.

Now you’re cooking. Easier than solarizing, plug in an old Crock-Pot outdoors, turn it to its lowest setting, and warm batches of compost while you sleep (three hours at 160°F kills most weed seeds).

Heat treating weedy compost destroys many of the microscopic life-forms that give compost its punch, so it’s a good idea to reprocess cooked compost for two to three weeks before using it in the garden. Place it in a plastic storage bin with a handful of earthworms borrowed from your garden and it will soon be laced with humic acids and other plant-pleasing compounds.

For tips on summer lawn care, click here. 

If you enjoyed this article, want to know more about this or other related interesting topics, please like and share this article. Be sure to like us, so you don’t miss anything, we are Sweet Basil Farm & Gardens, on Facebook and other social media. We are a local producer of farm fresh fruits and vegetables and members of the American Poultry Association, licensed by the Georgia Dept. of Agriculture as Poultry Dealers and Brokers, and a proud member of the Georgia Grown program, a division of the Georgia Dept. of Agriculture. We also breed, sell and ship poultry, pet pigs, bearded irises and much more. We have an 80 acre working farm, putting great emphasis on all natural gardening and livestock management practices. An 1840s general store is situated on our property, and serves as our on-site farmer’s market. Conveniently located off of Interstate 75 near the Johnstonville Rd exit (#193).  We are six miles west, located in Barnesville, Lamar County, Georgia.

Special thanks to Fine Gardening (finegardening.com) and almanac.com, as well as contributions from J. David Matthews, of Barnesville, Georgia in preparation of this article.

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