Wherefore, Weeds?

Allowing homemade compost to reach a certain temperature will ensure it doesn't contain active weed seeds.

Weeds. I cannot walk past a garden bed without weeding. Even when I am dressed in something other than my ratty garden clothing, I automatically pull weeds when I pass a garden. Friends and family think it's great; fewer weeds, plus it amuses them.

Weeds steal not only from the beauty of a flower or vegetable garden but from the nourishment that the soil provides. Weeds also steal the gardener's time. In my imaginary garden, there are no weeds and I am there pruning, cutting flowers, and harvesting vegetables and herbs all in a lovely outfit. Oh, well.

Have you ever thought about the role weeds play in the garden? There is usually a bare spot without a plant in sight and then the weed seed germinates. It is important to understand that garden soil is simply loaded with seeds. When we cultivate, we bring them near the surface to receive warmth, light, and moisture. The answer to weed control, then, lies in disturbing the soil as little as possible. Don't dig up soil just for the fun of it. Dig, plant, weed, whatever, and then cover the soil. It is actually not necessary to entirely dig up a weed by the way—dandelions come to mind. Cut them off. Eventually the roots will starve to death. Ha!

Growing your garden plants closer together does cut down on many weeds, although sometimes they sneak in between your desirable plants or under the leaves. Surprise!

Now, you can purchase mulches to cover the soil but know what you are getting. There may be weed seeds in the mulch! What about compost? Compost is beautiful. It looks great. It nourishes the soil. But it also nourishes weeds. Many times, people have told me that they introduced weeds into their garden when they purchased compost. I think that what happened is that the original compost was weed-free—it would have heated up to about 160 Fahrenheit—enough to kill weed seeds. But it does provide a medium for wind-carried weed seeds to sprout. Thinking of making your own compost? It's got to get hot, or you will introduce weed seeds into your garden. Use a thermometer!

The best time to weed is right after it rains. Those little weed plants come out of the soil nice and easily! If you are worried about yanking out desirable plants, pay attention: you probably placed your seeds in some type of pattern. (Well, OK, use a pattern the next time!) You can also hoe out weeds. Take it easy; not too deep or up will come more weed seeds.

Try to set a little time every day for weeding.

Going on vacation? You may return to tall weeds. Remember the Queen of Hearts, "Off with their heads!" Cutting the tops off weeds prevent them from going to seed. When you have more time, you can return and complete the removal.

You may be thinking, no problem, there are herbicides. The use of herbicides should be thoroughly researched by the home gardener. Are they necessary? What is the environmental impact? What is the effect on people, pets, pollinators, the soil? I have spoken with a number of backyard gardeners who have told me that a particular herbicide didn't work. This happens because plants, including weeds, of course, metabolize products from the soil. Timing appears to be crucial. All weeds don't respond in the same way. For example, I learned that research indicates that using an herbicide on the weed lesser celandine is effective before it flowers, not so much after.

Another question people ask me is, "How do I know it is a weed instead of some plant I want?" Well, dear reader, gardening experience helps. That is one of the reasons that keeping a gardening journal can prove helpful, because you cannot be expected to remember what you planted in a particular spot last year. For example, I watch for reseeding perilla and feverfew in my front garden. I know what the seedlings look like and welcome them. And yes, even now on occasion I nourish a weed because I am not sure exactly what is growing early in the season. That's part of the adventure of gardening. It's all about experiences and learning. Enjoy the ride!

I don't know about you, but I need to go outside. The weeds are waiting.

I love to hear from you: caharlos@verizon.net

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