Prevention the key to winning war on weeds

I admit I’m not fond of summer. My favourite garden task –spring pruning – is long gone and the summer heat has now set in with its overdramatized production of obnoxious weeds.

I admit I’m not fond of summer. My favourite garden task –spring pruning – is long gone and the summer heat has now set in with its overdramatized production of obnoxious weeds.

They’re either riding the breeze in a blaze of glory or lurking beneath real plants, masquerading as something important. Some are so believable they even con us into inviting them into our gardens, which we later regret. Really, they’re just a lot of work.

It’s no surprise, of course. If you’ve ever read the biblical account of creation you might recall what God said to Adam when he and Eve were being ushered out of the Garden of Eden. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake … thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee” (Genesis 3:17&18).

Whether you believe that biblical declaration or not, the fact is weeds are here to stay.

Even if you were to succeed in eliminating all weed plants from your garden this year, seeds would sprout again next year. A single plant of lamb’s quarters can produce 72,000 seeds that remain viable for 20 to 40 years. Believe me, eradicating weeds is not a realistic goal.

The trick with weeds is to manage their growth, and prevention is the key. Prevention incorporates: [1] identifying weeds (at least by type – annual or perennial) so you’ll know how to effectively deal with them; [2] monitoring their growth stages so you can perform timely treatments; and [3] evaluating your successes and failures so you can improve your hit rate.

Generally, annuals are shallow rooted and easy to pull out. They complete their life cycle in one year and only multiply by seed. Don’t let them go to seed.

Perennials are the difficult ones. Their tops die back each winter, but roots remain alive. They resurface the following spring, larger and more difficult to remove. Perennials spread by seed and by creeping roots and/or underground stems. Even root pieces can generate new plants, so keep cultivation to a minimum. These plants are tough to eliminate once established. Pull them while they’re young, and don’t let them go to seed.

Here are my top five preventative tips for winning the war on weeds:

– Get the jump on weed growth during the first six weeks of spring while weeds are small and soil is moist, making them easy to pull out.

– Cover bare soil; it’s an open invitation to weeds. Use shredded bark, untreated lawn clippings or leaves.

– Don’t compost weeds. Composting doesn’t always generate sufficient heat to kill seeds and roots. For the same reason, make sure manures and other soil additives are well composted.

– Inspect new plant purchases for hitchhiking weeds.

– Cut off weed flowers before they go to seed.

If you get in the habit of doing a bit of preventative weed management each time you’re in the garden, problem weeds can be brought and kept under control. Who knows, you may even have time to hit the beach and enjoy some sun.