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More on Weeds

Wed, Sep 20th, 2000
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Monday, September 18, 2000

OK, so I got a little carried away two weeks ago when I wrote about loving your weeds. Maybe tolerating some of your weeds is a little more appropriate. Maybe I have a really weedy garden this year and I know you do too, so here’s a few tips from a reprinted article found on Organic Garden magazine website, entitled: "Weeds"

Mulch: A thick layer of mulch keeps light from reaching weeds. "Without adequate light, the plants don't produce enough chlorophyll to enable further growth. Most of these plants sicken and die before you even notice them," writes Miranda Smith "The few plants that do manage to stick their leaves into the light will be shallowly rooted and very easy to pull."

Organic mulches—straw, grass clippings, leaves, shredded bark—nourish the soil as they decompose. They are fairly effective weed barriers. For even better weed protection, use several sheets of newspaper, kraft paper (the paper used to make grocery bags) or cardboard under these mulches. In a 1992-93 study at the University of Vermont, a 6-inch layer of shredded newspaper applied at the beginning of one season allowed no more than 8 weeds per square yard to sprout for two summers. Without renewing the mulch layer, the newspaper controlled weeds for two seasons. Kraft paper and cardboard allow even less light to reach weeds and are even more impenetrable.

Hoeing: Annual weeds die when you sever the stems from the roots just below the soil surface. With a sharp hoe, you cut the weeds easily. Forget about the square-headed traditional garden hoe for this job - go for an oscillating or collinear hoe.

To hoe your garden without cultivating a backache, hold the hoe as you would a broom—that is, with your thumbs pointing up. Skim the sharp sides of the hoe blade through the top inch of the soil.

Solarization: You can let the sun help you get rid of persistent weeds, if you're willing to leave the bed fallow for six weeks in the summer. Get started in late spring or early summer by pulling, hoeing or raking out as many weeds as you can from the garden bed. Then, moisten the soil and cover it with clear plastic, weighting or burying the edges. Leave the plastic in place for 6 weeks. When you remove the plastic, the sun will have cooked weeds that would otherwise have sprouted.

Handpulling: Here's the trick to comfortable, quick weed pulling:

• "Put your hands in front of you, thumbs up and palms facing your body, one hand in front of the other. Now roll your hands, like kids do when singing 'This old man goes rolling home.' Pinch your forefinger and thumb together as you reach the outermost edge of the imaginary circle your hands are tracing and move your arms to the side as you roll your hands. With practice, you will be surprised by how quickly you clean up a row in the garden with this movement."

Persistence: This is your most important long-range weapon against weeds. Mulch well, pull what you can, hoe where you have to and use a handy tool or two for a few minutes whenever you visit your garden. Do these things consistently for a few seasons, and you will slowly, but surely expel the invaders for good.

Never hoe or till comfrey, Jerusalem artichoke, witch grass or quackgrass. All of these weeds will reproduce from tiny bits of root left in the soil. Chopping them with a hoe or tilling them will break the roots into pieces that will re-sprout, leaving you with even more of these weeds. Instead, pull them by hand and mulch heavily to keep light from reaching any of the root you miss. (If you have a lot of comfrey you don’t want, leave me a message at the Extension office, I’d be glad to take it off your hands. V.C.)

A good tip to try for weeding out thistles: right before rain is expected, hoe the thistles right below the ground surface. After the rain comes the water sitting on the stem ends will rot them out right where they are. Sounds pretty painless.

Next week: Raspberries and Raspberry Diseases. Virginia Cooper gardens and writes from her farm in Mabel. She can be reached at the Extension office at (507) 765-3896, or via email: virgcoop@yahoo.com

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