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Six Ways to Outwit Your Weeds

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“One year’s seeds are worth nine year’s weeds” says the old adage. While weeding may benefit mental health by allowing us to vent negative feelings, it soon becomes frustrating if not downright overwhelming. Smart weeding tactics can help.

The first rule of weed prevention is mulch, mulch, and more mulch. Three or four inches of mulch-whether compost from your bin, straw, pine needles, fallen leaves, wood chips, or gravel-deprive weed seeds of the light necessary to germinate. Those weeds that do manage to soldier through the mulch are easier to yank out, often roots and all.

When preparing a new bed or removing old lawn, first lay down overlapping cardboard or four or five layers of non-colored newspaper. Cover with a good layer of mulch, keep moist, and stand back while your handiwork proceeds to smother the weeds. After several weeks your new bed will be ready for planting.

LET SLEEPING SEEDS LIE: Once your garden beds are planted, resist tilling. The top layer of soil is jam-packed with weed seeds, notorious for their prolonged naps or dormancy. Your defense once again is to deny these seeds the light of day needed to germinate. Do this by tilling only when necessary and promptly covering newly exposed soil with a fresh layer of mulch.

GET’EM WHILE THEY’RE VULNERABLE: Weed early and often while soil is moist and new seedlings still pull up easily. If the soil is dry, slice weeds off just below the surface with a sharp hoe. Use a trowel or knife to twist and slice off tap-rooted weeds.

To prevent rooted gleanings from regrowing with the next shower, hustle them off to the compost bin. Put seed-laden weeds in the garbage unless you’re sure your compost heats up sufficiently to kill them.

DON’T WATER YOUR WEEDS: Sprinkler overage and water runoff (urban drool) are just what your weeds need to prosper. Adjust and monitor sprinklers to be sure they’re watering only your planting beds. A drip irrigation system does a wonderful job of helping control weeds and soaker hoses around the dripline of trees and shrubs also put water to the right plants.

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS: For those weeds you’ve not yanked out, lopping off their flower heads before they go to seed may deter them from spreading, though timing is tricky. Mow too late and the weed has already performed its dirty seed-spewing deed. Mow too early and some weeds retaliate with new stems and even more flowers and seed heads closer to the ground. Yellow star thistle is an example of this devious tactic. Mow star thistle as it “shows yellow” when just coming into flower.

SEARCH AND DESTROY INVASIVES: Show truly noxious weeds no mercy. Some of our most infamous thugs include the above yellow star thistle; puncture vine; Scotch, French and Spanish broom and tree-of-heaven-all supremely capable of spreading their copious seeds far and wide. One mature tree-of-heaven can produce up to 325,000 seeds in one year plus countless suckers. The brooms produce such attractive flowers that people sometimes intentionally plant them, unwittingly helping spread an evil pest that crowds out native plants, chokes streams, and creates a fire hazard.

Lastly relax and allow some weeds to flourish. Weeds aren’t all bad; in fact they provide vital services. Wildlife depends of weeds for food and cover. Some weeds add nitrogen to deficient soil. Weeds protect our hillsides and wild areas with their erosion resistant leaves and roots, and we humans derive great pleasure from their colorful spring beauty.

Choose your weeds wisely and learn how to manage some of our most troublesome ones at For planting ideas, see “Don’t plant a Pest,”  or contact the Tuolumne County Master Gardener Hotline at 209-533-5912,

Vera Strader tries to remain philosophical about weeds in her Sonora garden.