War on weeds: Start early so you can enjoy gardening rest of season
It’s early in the season, and already, we have so much to do in the yard.
To help you spend more time on the gardening you enjoy and less time on annoying maintenance, snuff out weeds early in the season.
There are several good reasons to make weeding a priority now:
* Weeds are easier to remove when young.
* If you get rid of weeds early in the season, you won’t have to deal with them as they grow bigger and more plentiful through the summer.
* It’s too early to plant most annuals. Weeding gives you the chance to accomplish useful work and be in your yard.
As you consider where to put most of your weeding time and energy, you can skip weeds that are soon shaded by robust perennials. I ignore weeds in my towering native perennial beds because the cupplants, purple coneflowers and false blue indigo dwarf weeds noticeable for a few weeks in spring.
Do bother with weeds that spread like groundcovers or reseed with reckless abandon. They create a mat that stifles less aggressive perennials. In fact, choose groundcovers, perennials with large leaves or short grasses to fill in or shade open spaces.
Here are more tips to curtail weeds:
* Pluck weeds when the soil is moist. Weeds, especially deeply rooted ones, surrender much easier after a soaking rain or watering.
* Take care to avoid disturbing soil. Digging out weeds stirs up more weed seeds. Use a tool that causes minimal disturbance, such as a stirrup hoe.
* Avoid tilling. “Every time you rototill, you lose fertility,” noted Kris Marion, an organic gardener in Blanchardville who offered tips at a gardening seminar in Wausau a few years back. Digging and tilling disrupts the web of microorganisms in the soil.
* Plant close together. “If you have no space between plants, you’ll have no room for weeds,” said Marion.
In vegetable gardens, follow succession planting. When you harvest and clear early crops, such as radishes and peas, plant another crop, such as kohlrabi or other brassica vegetables. Nature abhors a vacuum. Weeds are the first to invade open spaces and highly adaptable.
* Mulch. Straw, shredded leaves, pine needles, grass clippings and wood chips are all good choices for suppressing weeds between plants or rows – or both.
Layers of newsprint, paper bags and cardboard work to smother weeds and unwanted grass. Cover them with shredded leaves or grass clippings, all of which will break down into the soil. Landscape fabric also smothers weeds. So do floating row covers, which also keep out insect pests. But take care that vegetables do not get too hot under them.
* Plants cannot survive constant cutting. (Think of perennials that fell victim to the lawn mower.) If there’s nothing growing above ground, plants will eventual use up the food stored in roots below ground.
My husband first tried to persuade me of this as he mowed or weed-wacked invaders in our perennial beds. While stubborn weeds and grasses do grow back, trimming them to the ground is one of the best ways to control them without disturbing the soil.
* Water wisely. Overhead sprinklers or irrigation systems tend to water plants that need moisture and all of the weeds lying in wait. Use a drip line to place moisture exactly where you need it. Bricks can hold the line in place.
If you don’t remove all your weeds in spring – and let’s be realistic, who will? – devote time to weeding regularly.
If your weeds grow to the point of flowering, be sure you pull or cut them before the flowers turn to seed. Lambsquarter, one of the most common annual weeds, produces up to 72,000 seeds per plant. Pigweed produces 117,000 seeds, while black nightshade produces a whopping 178,000 seeds per plant.
Those cheerful statistics are courtesy of Paul Whitaker, who teaches biological sciences at University of Wisconsin-Marathon Center in Wausau. Identifying weeds and knowing their life cycles are keys to better controlling them, he notes.
And, if your weeds do flower, take solace in knowing that creeping Charlie and dandelion flowers are important early blooming nectar sources for pollinators.