Summer is here and, after all the gentle rain of spring, I once again find myself struggling with how to control the weeds in my garden. There’s so much bad information and marketing out there, and it’s having a big impact on the environment.
I will admit to falling prey to bad information and flashy marketing years ago when I first started gardening. I had created perennial beds in my shady postage-stamp yard, and I had visions of them all being completely pristine and free of weeds.
Rather than learn about natural weed control, I bought a big bucket of RoundUp – yes, the one marketed by Monsanto – and waged war. Guess what happened? My beds still had weeds in them, and every day, I would notice tiny new ones sprouting. I’d spray those and more would come.
I’ve learned so much since then about the harmful effects of these awful products. They poison our soil, seep into groundwater poisoning fish and wildlife, and they poison our families and pets. Meanwhile, natural selection works to create weeds that are resistant. Now farmers and gardeners are faced with “super” weeds that require more and more deadly chemicals to control. Why? So we can have perfect lawns?
What I’ve learned is that the quest for a weed-free garden is futile because a garden is a natural thing. Even if weed-free isn’t possible, we can still strive to gain control without harming the environment.
- First, arm yourself with knowledge about the specific weeds in your yard. Once you understand what you’re dealing with, natural weed control methods are much more effective. For instance, we moved to a new home last year. Something we got for “free” with our new home was a nasty infestation of Canada thistle, one of the most invasive weeds around. Hand pulling Canada thistle is counterproductive because each plant can have an extensive horizontal root system that spans five feet or more. When you pull the plant, it can resprout multiple plants from every root fragment left in the ground. Its seeds can live for decades, germinating when the soil is disturbed. Any natural weed control methods for Canada thistle should be aimed at young plants that have not set seed.
- If you don’t know your weeds, look them up online or establish a relationship with experts at your local garden center. This has been invaluable to me. When I don’t know what something is, I cut it down and bring the “specimen” to the garden center for identification. Once I tell them that I’m an organic gardener, they recommend safe controls.
I have recently seen all sorts of recipes for homemade, vinegar-based weed killers. I can tell you from experience with my Canada thistle that it does not work. You need to start with a very acidic vinegar, one that you won’t find in the grocery. The vinegar needs to be at least 20% acidity, and you can order it on Amazon or check your garden center. Using the vinegar by itself works very well as long as you spray it in the heat of a sunny day. If it’s cloudy or raining, don’t spray.
- You will need to spray repeatedly with vinegar, and this is also true of any weed killer, including the environmentally-irresponsible kind. Often, for the most aggressive weeds, the first spraying simply makes them look uglier. Kick them while they’re down and you’ll have a better chance of killing them.
- Hand pulling or using a small hoe to dislodge shallow-rooted weeds is very effective after a rain. The ground is soft and you can often pull the entire root system for some weeds. Aim to pull all weeds when they are young and before they go to seed. Weeding your garden by hand can be a huge chore if you procrastinate. Natural weed control is not a “one and done” endeavor, it’s an ongoing effort. Whenever I’m outside just poking around in the garden, I stop to pull weeds in small areas here and there.
- Proper mulching is a great natural weed control measure. Mulch blocks light to weed seeds and smothers newly emerging weeds.
Finally, relax – perfection is boring, and gardening should be fun. Even with the most harmful, poisonous, noxious weed killers available, you will still have weeds in your yard. Accept that weeds are part of every gardener’s life, use natural weed control that’s safe, and spend your gardening time wisely.