Weed Free - Naturally
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Weed Free - Naturally


We're in the thick of the growing season, and the weeds are growing as fast as the flowers and vegetables we've encouraged to grow.  Weeding the garden is a drag, but it doesn't have to be a time consuming menace.  Nor does maintaining a weed-free garden bed mean a summer spent spraying glyphosphate or other herbicides and praying that the neighbor's dog doesn't meander over and eat the doomed greenery before it collapses.  Weeds can be managed, if not conquered, with products and techniques that are pet and people-friendly


If It Ain't Broke.....


"I've always had good luck using glyphosphate spray on weeds, so why should I use anything else that might not work as well?"  This is a legitimate question; since its introduction in 1971, glyphosphate-based post emergent herbicides have done an admirable job in killing 99% of the weeds treated according to instructions. Better yet, glyphosphate has no residual effect on soil, so its environmental impact is very low.  The problem is that the 1% of weeds that live despite glyphosphate treatment create generations of superweeds.


Today, more than 40% of common weeds show resistance to glyphosphate. This means that glyphosphate herbicides have no negative effect on them, which necessitates adding different - and possibly more toxic - chemicals to herbicides in order for them to be effective.  Spraying a chemical soup can be hazardous to the homeowner, pets and wildlife.


A second consideration is that glyphosphate, 2 4D and other herbicides commonly found at the "big box" stores or garden centers are nonselective. One stream of misdirected spray can kill or maim a prized rose just as well as it can destroy dandelions.


Weed control shouldn't be hazardous to your health, and it doesn't have to take extraordinary effort. Making use of natural herbicides, consistent use of a weed eater and cultivator and creative mulching techniques can make your garden a weed free paradise.


Walnuts  - Nature's Weed Enforcers


The walnut tree is nature's own weed eliminator. Walnut trees produce the chemical juglone, which is toxic to many grasses and plants, especially members of the nightshade family. Using the leaves and husks of walnuts to mulch the garden in fall and winter will keep many weeds from growing for up to four months in the spring. Be aware, however, that tomatoes, peppers and potatoes won't grow in areas where walnut leaves have been used.


Vinegar is another natural herbicide, and can be used full strength to spot treat weeds. Dandelions especially hate a cider vinegar bath. 


Weed Block On A Roll


Landscape fabric, weed blocker and plastic are all viable options for controlling weeds over a large area. Black or colored plastic especially are used in commercial squash, cucumber, melon, strawberry and tomato production because they also help maintain soil warmth, hasten fruit development, and have some impact on controlling damaging insects.


Installing these products can be labor intensive. Weed blockers come on a roll that can range from 50 feet long to 500 feet long , with a standard width of 3 feet.  Once the weed block is unrolled and spread on the ground, it needs to be fastened at intervals with metal pins, much like upholstery.  Cut holes in the fabric or plastic where plants are to be installed, and use loose mulch to cover the bare ground around the plant's stem so that the most opportunistic weeds don't gain a foothold.  


Weed blockers tend to degrade in UV light, so they need to be replaced after one or two seasons.


Power In The Garden


The weed eater and cultivator are a gardener's best friend. These tools are vital in the war on weeds, and should be used  regularly.  The owners manual of the Mantis® tiller / cultivator recommends cultivating between rows weekly in order to uproot stubborn weeds such as dandelions and goldenrod and keep the annual weeds disrupted so they don't flower and reseed.  Weed eaters are terrific used against the large, looming monster weeds such as pigweed, milkweed or thistles.


Cheap and Biodegradable


One final method for weed control is something I learned from a horticulturist  and groundskeeper who worked at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Use unprinted, corrugated cardboard covered with several inches of grass clippings as mulch.


Large pieces of corrugated cardboard are easily obtained. Appliance stores, office supply stores and businesses that receive regular truck or UPS shipments are good places to find it - they may even pay you to take it away. Cut the corrugated cardboard into strips or whatever shape best fits the area you need to mulch. Normally, it is heavy enough to stay down without weighting it, but you may want to tack the corners down with rocks or bricks. Cover the cardboard with grass clippings after every mowing.  The cardboard prevents sunlight and water from reaching the soil for several weeks and the grass clippings help to smother anything that has already germinated.


This method may be unattractive at first, but as the grass clippings become thick enough to completely cover the cardboard and turn brown, the mulch blends into the soil and is barely visible.


The best part about this method is that at the end of the season, this mulch can be rototilled into the soil. Cardboard is essentially wood pulp formed into sheets and is entirely biodegradable; the grass clippings are high in nitrogen and help break the cardboard down.  I've noticed that earthworms like to colonize underneath cardboard mulch, so your plants and your soil benefit from this mulch long after the growing season has ended.


Weeds will always be a fact of life in the garden, but you can whip weeds without worrying about chemicals.  Stay weed free - naturally.






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