Tackling weeds is a problem that has plagued gardeners and landscapers since time immemorial. While some weeds have shallow roots and are easy to control, many others have growth habits and root systems that allow them to enslave your garden. When weeds are left to their own devices, they can even kill your plants and turn your yard or garden into an unsightly mess.
What are Garden Weeds?
A weed is essentially any plant you don’t want to have around. There are a handful of familiar plants such as dandelions, crab grass, wild violas, Creeping Charlie and plantain which are considered weeds. Some common garden plants like morning glories, liriope grass, mint and various herbs can also become problematic due to their hardiness and tendency to reproduce prolifically.
Why are Weeds Bad for Your Organic Garden?
Besides making your garden unpleasant to look at, letting the weeds get out of control can actually be bad for it. The roots of weeds will compete with other plants’ roots, depriving them of growing space, stealing their nutrients and possibly even killing them. At the very least, poor weed control will result in sickly plants with stunted growth, low yields and an extreme vulnerability to pests and disease.
Some weeds have higher nutrient requirements than others. While their numbers grow, they may be leaching excessive amounts of a particular mineral from the soil. This can make it inhospitable for many vegetables and ornamental plants. Over time, the soil quality may even be ruined.
Although using fertilizer and adding amendments to the soil can help to offset the weeds’ negative effects, all it will really do is make the weeds healthier. Therefore, it is important to remedy any infestations before improving the soil.
Another problem with large weed populations is the matter of diseases and pests. Many weeds attract pests which will also happily devour your innocent garden plants, as well as viruses, fungi and bacteria which can be easily spread to healthy plants. To make matters worse, just a single area like this in your garden could leave even your most robust plants elsewhere open to infection and infestation. These problems tend to spread from a central location so if you’ve been seeing a lot of sick-looking plants, a weedy garden may be the culprit.
The worst part about weeds in your organic garden is confronting the use of herbicides. It’s easy to become so frustrated that you give in and douse them all with a hazardous substance. These chemicals can stay in the soil for years, can cause serious DNA damage to any plants they come into contact with and are known to be harmful to animals and people.
The Top 5 Ways to Get Rid of Garden Weeds
Dig them up. It’s laborious, but sometimes you just have to get to the root of the matter. This is one of the few sure ways to control things like crab grass, violas and dandelions. Crab grass is the most tedious of these because it sends out networks of underground runners that can be difficult to remove thoroughly. Weeds with a more isolated growth habit can usually be removed quickly with a small gardening trowel.
Suffocate them. Many people cover their growing area with sheets of black plastic for this reason. The area beneath the plastic becomes very hot in the sun, water and airflow are restricted and little or no light penetrates. This makes conditions intolerable for weeds and they die as a result. Apply a plastic layer early in the gardening season to prevent weeds from coming up in the first place.
Hoe the garden. Hoeing benefits plants by improving soil oxygenation and mixing accumulated organic matter into the soil. If you have a lot of very small weeds or or other unwanted sprouts, go over them a few times with the hoe. This usually mangles them enough to keep them from re-rooting and will also serve as compost for your garden. Earthworms and other microbes make quick work of this decaying plant matter and convert in into valuable nutrients.
Pour boiling water on them. There isn’t much that a good dose of boiling water won’t kill. Bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and even weeds are no match for the extreme temperatures. Doing this will literally cook weeds’ roots in the ground. After the boiling water treatment, it’s best to cover the area with some mulch or compost to protect it and let the natural soil probiotics repopulate.
Use some corn gluten meal. Corn gluten contains compounds which destroys the ability of many weed seeds to germinate. Products like these are known as pre-emergent herbicides. Corn gluten is one of the few of these which is completely natural. You can distribute it by hand for isolated patches or use a spreader for widespread infestations.
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