Weed man­age­ment a time-con­sum­ing ex­er­cise

The Progress-Index - At Home - - ROOTS OF WISDOM - PAUL ROGERS Paul Rogers is a cor­re­spon­dent for The Worces­ter (Mass.) Tele­gram & Gazette.

To an on­looker, gar­den­ing can be con­fus­ing. It ap­pears that we gar­den­ers spend a good por­tion of our time work­ing to stim­u­late plant growth and al­most as much energy con­trol­ling the growth that plants make. What is go­ing on?

Ac­tu­ally con­trol­ling plant de­vel­op­ment and stim­u­lat­ing healthy growth are two as­pects of gar­den­ing with the same end in view — happy plants and sat­is­fied gar­den­ers.

A ma­jor por­tion of time spent in the yard is de­voted to weed­ing. The more thor­oughly the soil is pre­pared with lime, fer­til­izer and or­ganic mat­ter, the more un­wanted plants — weeds — try to in­vade and oc­cupy the ground. Weeds ap­pre­ci­ate good soil prepa­ra­tion.

There is a weed seed bank num­ber­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of seeds present in the soil. Our task as cul­ti­va­tors of flow­ers, fruits and veg­eta­bles is to con­trol, as much as pos­si­ble, the de­vel­op­ment of these plants that com­pete with our de­sired plants.

Ag­gres­sive weeds (are there any other kind?) use avail­able sup­plies of food, wa­ter and sun­light to the detri­ment of our cho­sen plants. Weed con­trol (man­age­ment is a more cor­rect term) can take sev­eral forms, depend­ing on the type of weed. Many of the weedy peren­nial grasses re­grow in the spring and spread through­out the grow­ing sea­son from un­der­ground stems.

All por­tions of these stems and roots must be re­moved from the gar­den be­fore seed­ing or set­ting of de­sired plants can be­gin. Care­ful dig­ging and re-dig­ging will ac­com­plish your goal.

Other plants with ex­ten­sive root sys­tems, for ex­am­ple wild morn­ing glory and poi­son ivy, re­quire the same clear­ing from the plant­ing site. Clump form­ing peren­nial weeds like poke­weed and Ja­panese knotweed de­mand to­tal clump re­moval to curb their growth. Weed plants with long tap­roots like dan­de­lion and burdock must have their taproot re­moved as com­pletely as pos­si­ble.

Hav­ing dis­posed of the peren­nial weeds, we can turn our at­ten­tion to those weeds, both an­nu­als and peren­ni­als, that as seeds are present in the soil wait­ing to ger­mi­nate. Some, like crab­grass, will do so when soil tem­per­a­ture reaches a cer­tain de­gree. Crab­grass seeds start to grow when the soil reaches 65 de­grees, while purslane waits for 75 to 80 de­grees be­fore car­pet­ing the ground.

How­ever, the vast ma­jor­ity spring into growth as soon as the soil warms and suf­fi­cient mois­ture is present. Yet seeds also re­quire ex­po­sure to ul­tra­vi­o­let light from the sun. If we cover the soil with mulch, ground fab­ric, the fo­liage of ex­ist­ing plants, or by burial with soil, we will sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce seed ger­mi­na­tion.

Our fi­nal weed man­age­ment prac­tice is to hoe, cul­ti­vate or pull weeds as they ap­pear. Un­der­stand that when­ever the soil is dis­turbed, new weed seed is brought to the sur­face.

Is it any won­der that we are late in prun­ing the forsythia, lilacs, magnolias, rhodo­den­dron, aza­leas and other spring-flow­er­ing plants? Yet to in­crease bud count and pro­duce shapely, healthy plants, we should be spend­ing time with them.

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