Beating the Weeds
C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer, radio talk show host and gardening consultant
gardening, speaking, lectures, writer, plants, annuals, perennials, shrubs, garden advice, gardens, Cape Cod, radio, gardenlady, garden lady
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Beating the Weeds

Articles by C.L. Fornari
hay_fabric_veggies

This vegetable gardener uses a combination of hay and landscape fabric for weed suppression. Fabric must be weighted so that it doesn’t blow away, and hay must be thick enough so that no light gets through to stimulate germination of weed seeds. Some straw and hay contains seeds that may ultimately add to the weed problem!

As every gardener knows, dealing with weeds is an intrinsic part of gardening, and there is no easy way out. “Isn’t there something I can spray?” my customers ask me. Well, there are herbicides, but they must be used sparingly and with caution because they kill every plant that they touch. This makes them unsuitable for use on weeds that grow among garden plants.

“How about something I can put in the soil?” Those are pre-emergents. They keep weed seeds from germinating, but the gardener must be very careful to follow label directions for timing and rate of application. Too much of these products will damage even mature plants.

Far more effective at preventing weed germination is a layer of mulch, which prevents light from triggering the sprouting of weed seeds. Organic mulches such as composted leaves or shredded bark all do the job, and they have the added advantage of breaking down and amending the soil. A two-inch layer applied once a year in the early spring is perfect.

In vegetable gardens some people spread plastic sheeting, but this doesn’t allow water to reach the soil and at the end of the season you have old plastic to throw out.

Landscape fabric allows water to penetrate but this product is fraught with problems in years to come. It needs to be covered with mulch to hide it, but it doesn’t allow the decomposing mulch to enter the soil. After a year or two weed seeds are very content to grow in the rotting mulch on top of the fabric, and when you pull them out the roots pull up the fabric they were growing into. Shrubs and trees send their roots up through landscape fabric so when you try to remove it when it starts to be unattractive, you are likely to do damage to your plants’ roots. In my opinion gardeners and home-landscapers should avoid landscape fabric like the plague!

ugly_plastic

Plastic and landscape fabric usually begin to degrade and become an ugly problem in the garden. These products are ultimately more trouble then they’re worth!

In annual or vegetable gardens large stands of pure weeds can be roto-tilled or hand-turned into the soil. Some weeds will grow from even the tiny pieces of roots, however, so repeated tilling, or covering with mulch after tilling, may be necessary.

Established weeds can sometimes be smothered with newspaper and bark mulch. Cut the weeds down low and carpet the area with piles of at least 12 sheets of newspaper, overlapping the edges by a couple of inches. As you lay the piles down secure them with a few shovels of mulch so they don’t blow away. Once the area is fully papered, cover it all with 4 to 6 inches of bark mulch. Four to six months later you can begin to plant in the area by moving paper and mulch aside and digging holes for new shrubs or perennials.

If your garden is mulched there will be fewer weeds to pull, but the traditional method of removing those that do appear is, of course, hand pulling. Grab the weed close to the soil, pull the roots out, and shake as much dirt off of the plant as possible.

I have come to see that this method of weed control is not only the most effective, but it’s also a gift to the gardener. Nothing else takes me into my garden in quite the same way. I sit in the garden, looking at the plants from a new perspective, listening to the hum of the passing bees and the calling of the birds. I am part of the garden, not just a spectator. Dealing with the weeds is an intrinsic part of gardening…and I guess I’m thankful that there’s no easy way out.

Landscape fabric allows water to penetrate but this product is fraught with problems in years to come. It needs to be covered with mulch to hide it, but it doesn’t allow the decomposing mulch to enter the soil. After a year or two weed seeds are very content to grow in the rotting mulch on top of the fabric, and when you pull them out the roots pull up the fabric they were growing into. Shrubs and trees send their roots up through landscape fabric so when you try to remove it when it starts to be unattractive, you are likely to do damage to your plants’ roots. In my opinion gardeners and home-landscapers should avoid landscape fabric like the plague!

In annual or vegetable gardens large stands of pure weeds can be roto-tilled or hand-turned into the soil. Some weeds will grow from even the tiny pieces of roots, however, so repeated tilling, or covering with mulch after tilling, may be necessary.

Established weeds can sometimes be smothered with newspaper and bark mulch. Cut the weeds down low and carpet the area with piles of at least 12 sheets of newspaper, overlapping the edges by a couple of inches. As you lay the piles down secure them with a few shovels of mulch so they don’t blow away. Once the area is fully papered, cover it all with 4 to 6 inches of bark mulch. Four to six months later you can begin to plant in the area by moving paper and mulch aside and digging holes for new shrubs or perennials.

If your garden is mulched there will be fewer weeds to pull, but the traditional method of removing those that do appear is, of course, hand pulling. Grab the weed close to the soil, pull the roots out, and shake as much dirt off of the plant as possible.

I have come to see that this method of weed control is not only the most effective, but it’s also a gift to the gardener. Nothing else takes me into my garden in quite the same way. I sit in the garden, looking at the plants from a new perspective, listening to the hum of the passing bees and the calling of the birds. I am part of the garden, not just a spectator. Dealing with the weeds is an intrinsic part of gardening…and I guess I’m thankful that there’s no easy way out.

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