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Weeds in the Garden: How crazy they make the gardener!

Weeds, Weeds, and More Weeds: The gardening task that never goes away!

More time is spent obsessing on weeds in the garden than anything else. We stress over them, plot to kill them, pull at them, dig them out, string trim them, curse them, and still they come back. What is it about weeds in the landscape that makes us all so insane?

Well, think about it…that is precisely what we are told to do by the big business of the landscape industry. I’m not saying that weeds are good, I am just suggesting that our insanity over them is fed by marketing, so maybe a perspective shift would help.

In his lecture titled “Fortune of the Republic”, delivered in 1878, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s asked and answered; “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered,…”

Today, many an herbalist will tell you that the plants we are tearing our hair out over have medicinal virtues that should rather endear us to them. Plants like clover, dandelion, and plantain to name a few.  The truth, however, is we have been blinded by an image of man-made perfection – perfect grass turf with clean lines and plants all behaving in neat orderly fashion. A little blur is okay in some areas. Perfection isn't really the goal, is it?

Step one - WEED the bed.                                 Step two - Mulch the bed.

Weeds-herbs-help           After-weeding-mulching

This is not natural or sustainable and if you stop to think about it, given the above desire for order, there is little chance that we will win this battle by the act of weeding alone. The plants designated as weeds are prolific seeders and have all the time in the world to grow, while we are all stretched for any spare time. So what are we to do?

There are simple ways to win this tug of war with weeds. One is to work WITH nature instead of against her. Take these three sayings to heart and you will be off to a great start.

“Nature abhors a vacuum!”

Just weeding and mulching isn't enough. Given a blank plot of land, Mother Nature will fill it. As far as our New England ecosystem is concerned, every square inch of land should be covered with green. And trust me, “which” green isn’t relevant. This idea of blank mulch as a desired look in the landscape is a sure bet that weeding will continue to be a part of your life.

SOLUTION: Plant more plants. Fill all the soil and garden niches with plants. Ground covers go a long way in squeezing out the weeds.

Step three - add more plants. This bed is full of Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip' (flowering in the foreground) and followed by Veronica umbrosa 'Georgia Blue' (earlier blue flower). These rugged ground cover perennials eliminate the need to weed and mulch in the areas they fill.

adding-ground-covers-reduces-weeds

“One year of seed, gives seven years of weeds.”

There is a treasure trove of seeds living dormant in the soil just waiting for the right conditions to germinate. We call it the Seed Bank and it is alive and well in your soil…waiting. If you lay down your cultivator and give up on weeding this spring, letting the weeds flower and then go to seed, you are in essence just making a deposit into that bank. Just one year of letting weeds go to seed can provide hundreds of thousands of new seeds. Many of which will just lie dormant until the time is right.

SOLUTION: Get to weeding early in the season before they have a chance to set seeds. If you need help, this is the place to get it. Weeding may seem like a lowly task, but done early it is one of the single most effective ways to manage the seed bank.

“Not all weeds are created equal.”

Understanding the difference in the weed characteristics is necessary to understand how to manage them. For instance, there are three basic lifecycles for weeds; Annual, Biannual, and Perennial. Next there are two basic weed types; broad-leafed and grassy.

Why does all this matter? How and when you manage weeds is often dictated by the type and lifecycle.

SOLUTION: Know what you are dealing with and manage accordingly. Here are some great resources.

For weed ID get this very good book:  “Weeds of the Northeast”

For great online information check out the Weed Herbarium of U-Mass Amherst.

TAKE-AWAY-TIPS

DO NOT use weed fabric. It doesn’t work!

Weed fabric just covers the ground and eventually years of mulching over it create a new soil level above the fabric. There are oodles of weed seeds being deposited every day. They can just as easily germinate in broken down mulch as in soil. Some perennial weeds are so tenacious; they will pierce through the fabric and keep right on growing.

DO mulch with natural, un-dyed mulching products, but DO NOT over mulch!

More is NOT better in the case of mulch. Mulch alone won’t stop weeds, and more mulch causes harm to the soil ecology and to the plants you love. The main importance of mulch has to do with regulating moisture for soil microbes, by protecting the top layer from drying out in the summer heat. The bonus is that it will also slow the germination of weeds and make the garden look "neat".

DO NOT yank and tear when you weed. Go for the roots.

Never weed simply with your hands. Have a tool like a cultivator, trowel, or hoe with you. I see clients bend over and tear at weeds as they show me how diligently they have been weeding their garden. Truth is you are doing nothing more than pruning and hurting your lower back when you just tear the tops off weeds. Weeding is done on the hands and knees, and one digs at the weed to remove the entire plant – roots and all. If getting down to the ground is not your cup of tea, you may also use something like an action hoe to disrupt the tender shoots or patches of grassy weeds roots and all. 

Remember, The Garden Continuum wants to help you understand and enjoy your landscape.

If the weeds have gotten to be too much, maybe it is time to come up with a better management strategy. TGC is just a phone call away. Call and talk to our Fine Gardening Division Manager, Bill Lottero, about your maintenance needs today!

The Insider's Guide to Landscape Design

Topics: Ecological and Sustainable Landscapes Landscape and Garden Maintenance