Spring is finally here! The temperatures are rising and our age-old nemesis – weeds – have returned to wreak havoc on our lawns, gardens and fields. Everyone has the right to choose how they will control weeds on their property. For those who decide not to use herbicides, what are your options for weed control?
First, I encourage you to look at a piece from the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program called Weed Management in Landscapes, which you can find at z.umn.edu/4b9g. This piece does a nice job of laying out weed control, including the use of herbicides. For me it boiled down to two basic themes: preparation and compromise.
How do you prepare to control weeds? If I know what kind of weeds grow in my lawn, garden or field and where they grow, I can better focus my efforts early in the season to control those weeds. If I know when weeds typically emerge in a field or garden maybe, I would choose to delay planting and control a flush of weeds with cultivation. And if I take soil samples, then I know if I am providing the proper level of nutrients to my crop or lawn, which allows it to compete with the weeds.
Now where does compromise come in? For me compromise is about deciding what is most important to you and being willing to give in order to achieve that which you value most. For example, if you decide that the risks associated with using herbicides is too great, then you must accept that weed control for you will take longer and require more physical labor.
Let’s consider a few of the options. Cultivation is the classic method used for weed control and can be very effective at controlling many weeds. But to be successful you have to cultivate multiple times throughout a growing season which can be demanding of both your time and your body. Also, cultivating too often can lead to the breakdown of soil structure and the loss of soil health.
Other weed control methods like flaming, using hot water, or mowing also have positives and negatives. If you mow weeds after they have gone to seed all you are doing is dispersing those seeds to a greater area. Hot water may not contain any chemicals but it must remain very hot to be effective at killing small weeds, which is difficult to do. And using flames to burn weeds carries the obvious risks of burning yourself and starting fires.
Long story short, there is no easy answer to controlling weeds. Even with the best site preparation, the healthiest crop or lawn, and diligent weed control efforts, we will still be fighting a never-ending battle. So when deciding on how you will control weeds on your property think about what matters most to you and be prepared to make the necessary compromises thereafter.