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Weeding…Gardening’s Necessary Evil

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By Carolee James, Master Gardener

This wet winter/spring will bring a vast abundance of weeds! With the weeds comes the task of getting rid of them. Every gardener has a unique style of dealing with these pesky plants, (oh yes, they´re plants, just not the ones we want to cultivate!) from hand weeding to using herbicides. Now I´m talking about weeds in garden beds, but if you live in open areas those weeds and grasses must be dealt with in stronger ways due to the extreme fire hazard they pose.

I enjoy—yes you read that correctly—I enjoy hand weeding! You see I´m an impatient gardener. I don´t grow plants from seeds because I hate waiting for them to sprout. I need instant gratification! I buy plants already grown-up! When I plant an area I can see the fruits of my labor immediately and that also pertains to weeding.

Each spring as weeds begin to flourish I wait for good days when I can tackle one area at a time and immediately see the results of my weeding. My plants seem to perk up when they´re free of weeds and the garden area looks so much more attractive.

Every once in a while my urge to weed puts me in embarrassing situations. Each morning, when it´s not raining, my two constant canine companions and I go for a walk around the garden while I have my first cup of coffee. It´s a time for me to note what needs to be done there. If it´s not too chilly I´ll take out a weed here or there as I meander along. Sometimes, though, especially in early spring when the soil is still damp from the rains and the weeds pull up easily, I get so carried away with weeding that I lose track of time. It´s only when the UPS driver comes up the road that I realize I´m still in my now soil-ridden robe and slippers. I´ve been weeding for several hours!

For some, weeding is a necessary evil that must be done to protect the health of our plants and gardens. Weeds use nutrients and moisture in the soil that our cultivated plants need. Most importantly, if weeds are allowed to go to seed, they´ll proliferate throughout our gardens, eventually taking over. It may not be a pleasant chore to some—but to have a garden to be proud of—weeding is a must.

Is it possible to lessen the weeds in your garden? Absolutely. There are several ways to accomplish this. After planting your garden, cover the open areas with at least four inches of mulch. Your mulch can be compost, shredded bark, redwood or cedar chips, or even the new rubber mulch that´s now available. Also, the added mulch reduces water usage and keeps the soil cool from the hot summer rays.

Once you´ve removed the weeds in an area you can use a pre-emergence herbicide. I use a granular pre-emergence herbicide twice a year on several soil and cedar chip walkways in my garden. I have found it to be very effective. The area must be clear of weeds before using it, as it does not kill existing weeds. I have also used it in new planting areas where large areas of mulch are exposed. By sprinkling it atop the mulch, the few weeds that grow are easily removed.

The use of a weed barrier cloth can also be used to foil weed growth, but you must use some kind of topping like redwood or cedar mulch, gravel, etc. As time goes by some soil will settle in the covering and a few weeds may start to grow. These come up without much effort as their roots are not in the ground, but are on top of the weed cloth.

Removing weeds before they set seed is probably the most important. This can be accomplished by weed-whacking or the use of a spray herbicide. Weed-whacking is an essential yearly chore for many of us in the foothills in order to protect our homes and native landscapes from fire. Using liquid herbicides for large areas can be costly and often depends on weather conditions to be effective. When using herbicide sprays, be aware that drift—the fine mist of the spray that can and does travel several feet beyond the area being sprayed—may cause damage to ornamental and edible plants in the garden. Timing and care should be the rule when using spray herbicides.

Having a weed free garden may never be in sight for some of us, but at least trying for one will keep us busy!

See you in the garden….weeding!

Carolee James is a Tuolumne County Master Gardener who is looking forward to future sunny mornings when she´ll be able to get rid of as many weeds as possible before she´s caught in her robe and slippers.