Weeds: Public enemy No.1

By Mark and Ben Cullen

April 21, 2016 6:00 AM

I love to garden.
Maybe you love to garden too.
All of us know some people who love to garden.
So, is there anything about gardening that gardeners really don’t like?
Yes. Weeding.
Weeding is to gardening, what changing diapers is to parenting.
I love my kids and would not change a thing about having them, but changing diapers was not a lot of fun, except the cuddly part at the end when I lifted them off the change table for a kiss.
The difference between diaper changing and weeding is with weeds we have a lot of options to minimize the task.
With diaper changing, not so much.
My top five tips for minimizing weeding:
1. Start early.
Right now the soil is warming up as it does every spring.
The winter-moisture in the soil and increasing warmth provides the perfect environment for seed germination.
True for the desirable kind like peas, carrots, onions and radishes (all of which can be sown in the garden now) and weed seeds. After a weed seed germinates, it puts down a root, which provides a conduit for soil borne moisture and nutrients.
The root also anchors the plant, preventing it from blowing away in a high wind.
The deeper the root, the more difficult it is to eliminate the weed.
Early in the season, I sharpen my battery of weeding tools to prepare for my assault on garden weeds.
I use a bastard file to keep an edge on my hoe (and now, my new backhoe).
Cutting down weeds this time of year stops them in their tracks: they have nowhere to go but weed heaven because the root is not deep enough to save the weed plant.
2. Plant densely.
One of the best defences against weeds is to choke them out.
Where lawn weeds are concerned, I recommend you use a quality lawn seed mix to overseed your lawn in the weed infested areas to compete them out of existence.
Be sure to put down two- to three-cm of lawn soil, rake it smooth, broadcast the seed, rake it smooth and step on the works with flat soled shoes.
Water until germination and the root is well established.
Where your garden is concerned, the best way to prevent weeds without the use of weed killers is to place your plants close together when planting.
This ‘overcrowding’ will require that you cull out the odd plant in the future or cut them back aggressively when they grow together, but you will pull a lot fewer weeds in the mean time!
3. Mulch.
Ahh! The miracle of mulch.
I love finely ground up cedar and pine bark mulch for weed prevention.
When it’s spread about six- to eight-cm thick it insulates the surface of the soil from the heating rays of the sun.
It provides a barrier to weed seeds in the soil, preventing the majority of them from germinating in the first place.
A thick layer of natural mulch will prevent more than 90 per cent of weeds from becoming established.
Many perennial weeds like twitch grass and Canada thistle will push through a layer of mulch but it is much easier to pull them out of the loose mulch than it is from the garden soil.
Pull the weed, shake the mulch off the roots and get rid of it.
4. Manage water.
We tend to overwater our gardens. In fact about nine out of 10 plant problems are the result of overwatering.
Weeds thrive in moist conditions: the more that you water the more weeds grow.
Let established plants (vs. the ones you just planted) become dry between watering, if you water them at all.
Our weather provides a reasonably reliable source of water in the form of rain, so be patient and let Mother Nature do her job.
Your mature plants will generally be fine.
While I’m on the topic, here’s a reminder to set up your rain barrels for the season.
The warm, oxygen rich water in a rain barrel is loved by all of your garden plants, especially the ones growing in containers.
5. Landscape fabric.
Don’t use this stuff in the garden.
The label reads, “Weed barrier” as if laying it down will miraculously stop all weeds from pushing through. Truth is, organic material gathers on the top of the fabric over time, whether you place mulch over it or not, and weeds germinate in that organic material regardless.
They put down roots through the landscape fabric and now you have a mess on your hands.
Try pulling twitch grass out of this stuff!
Landscsape fabric is good for laying under patio stones or interlocking bricks.
Just imagine if you employ my top four suggestions and avoid using landscape fabric (point No. 5) you’ll have a lot more time for changing diapers!
Or whatever.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, ‘The New Canadian Garden’ published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.

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