Weed management a time-consuming exercise
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.