Dealing With Weeds

Many of us would prefer not to use pesticides.  BTW – the term “pesticides” is a general term indicating any product used to kill something.  Insecticides kill insects, rodenticides kill rodents, miticides kill mites and herbicides kill plants.  By itself, the term does not tell you what it is targeted to kill.  Ok, onward…

When it comes to controlling weeds, we often have other options besides chemicals.  There is always the ever-popular pulling-by-hand method.  This is a particularly useful method for keeping family members busy…and their friends.  It’s called “job security”.   It is recommended you call these “activities” rather than “chores”; puts the best spin on things.

I really don’t mind pulling weeds.  It is one of those tasks where you can go on automatic pilot and let your mind roam.  However, caution needs to be exercised if you are working in a newly emerging garden plot.  Do try to remember many baby plants look alike.  So maybe don’t let your mind wander too much. 

There are ways to minimize the task and benefit the soil as well.  And that is an important consideration….benefiting the soil.  I really do need to get a blog written on soil health, but every time I start, it turns into a book.   Will keep working on that; meanwhile, back to weeds.

Many recommend the use of landscape fabric to minimize weeds.  Unfortunately, if the area is to have plants, it has drawbacks.  Landscape fabric is typically top dressed with various products for aesthetic purposes.  Options include organic or inorganic products.  By inorganic, I am referring to the use of rock or stone appropriate for a pathway or drainage area.  If this is the application, then landscape fabric may be acceptable as your main purpose may not be improving the soil. 

However, if this is an area with plants your goal should be to improve the soil.  This is where you want an organic top dressing or mulch which will confer benefits to the soil as these products decompose.  These benefits include improvement in soil structure and aggregation, infiltration and percolation of water, aeration, and stimulation of soil microbial activity which will, in turn, make nutrients in the soil plant available.  If landscape fabric is used in these situations, it will block the interaction between the mineral soil below and the organic mulch above.  The soil won’t improve. 

Soil had landscape fabric with a top dressing of wood mulch for over 20 years. No improvement to the soil.

Therefore, in planted areas, add mulch but don’t use landscape fabric, which does mean you will be dealing with more weeds.  However, something to keep in mind is weeds growing in soil with good structure and aggregation, augmented with organic amendments over time, are much easier to pull than from straight mineral soil with little organic matter. 

Weeds in these heavily mulched pathways are very easy to pull. Jessie, one of our Jack Russell Terrier, is an able-bodied assistant.

There are numerous recommendations about how mulch suppresses weeds.  However, success with this strategy alone comes under the “it depends” category.  Combining mulch with the cardboard method as described in Creating a Tree Island is a viable option for weed management.   Just be aware, nothing is forever.  Weeds happen.  That’s life in a natural, healthy environment.  The best suppressive capability for maintaining weeds is to have something else growing there that you desire and let it/them outcompete the undesirable growth.

There is very little weed competition in the thick Basket-of-Gold (Aurinia saxatilis ‘Gold Dust’)

Perseverance is another factor.  A master gardener who writes a column for a local newspaper once said “weeds are not immortal”.  I know, they just seem to be.  But if you stay after them, you will notice the battle may be ongoing, but it gets easier.

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