Key to weed control — strategy and timing
Q uestion: Need suggestions to how to get rid of weeds throughout my yard and garden — not using a herbicide. I see those propane flame throwers, but I wonder what they will do to my landscape fabric. What is your suggestion? I have koi ponds as well as many planted areas and a garden.
Answer: If your landscape is overrun with weeds, there are several measures you can take to limit their growth for the coming season. Battling weeds is a challenge for sure, but it’s one that’s perfectly possible without having to turn to chemical herbicides. With a little planning and a few spare minutes a week, it is possible to control weeds effectively. The trick is to be consistent with your weed-
control tactics and keep on top of the weeds before they become too difficult to manage.
The key to weed control is in both the strategy and the timing. The best weed control actually happens before the weeds arrive. In the early spring, mulch all garden areas by applying a 2 to 3 inch layer of organic matter to the soil surface, before weed seeds have a chance to germinate. Around trees and shrubs I recommend shredded hardwood bark or arborist chips. In perennial beds, I use leaf mold (leaf compost). And in vegetable gardens I use leaf mold, shredded leaves and straw to suppress weeds. It’s amazing how effective a layer of mulch is in limiting weed growth all season long.
I don’t recommend using landscape fabric as it can restrict water movement to plant roots, cause a heat build-up in the soil and get tangled in shallow plant roots. I also find weed seeds readily germinate on top of the fabric, and the weed root grows down through the small holes in the fabric, making it very difficult to pull. But, since you already have it in place, I suggest putting a new layer of mulch on top of the fabric at the start of each growing season or pulling it all up and starting anew without it. For areas where you’re not using landscape fabric, you can lay down 10 sheets thick of newspaper and then top that with a layer of mulch. This is how I keep all my shrub beds weed-free all summer long. Just be sure to keep all types of mulch from coming in direct contact with plant stems and never pile mulch up around the trunks of trees or shrubs.
Another option is to use an organic pre-emergent herbicide. These products are made from corn gluten meal, a by-product of the corn-processing industry. They work by killing the initial root that emerges from a seed, thereby preventing it from germinating. Ninety percent effective after two years’ use, corn gluten meal has become a terrific alternative to conventional weed n’ feeds for the lawn and perennial border. It works just as well between rows of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Remember, though, that corn gluten will prevent all seeds from germinating, so don’t use it where you plan to grow crops from seed for at least 6 to 8 weeks after application of this granular product.
For established weeds, there’s no better method than hand-weeding. I use a tool called the Fiskars Stand-Up Weeder (it’s available on Amazon and at some local hardware stores) to pull the occasional weed that pops up through the mulch in my garden. The Fiskars Stand-Up Weeder has four prongs that are pressed into the soil around the weed. A simple tilt of the handle pops the root right out of the ground. Then, you push on the handle and the weed is released into a waiting wheelbarrow or bucket. You don’t even have to bend over with this tool.
If you don’t like to hand weed and can’t bring yourself to do it on a regular basis as is definitely required for optimum weed control, at least be sure to never let any weeds go to seed, because if you do, where you once had one weed, you’ll have a whole lot more.
As for your inquiry regarding flame weeders, I would not recommend using them around landscape fabric as it could melt or ignite. Flame weeders use ignited propane to burn weeds by heating plant tissue to temperatures high enough to blow out cell walls. The flame they throw can be adjusted to quite a narrow range, so you can use them between crop rows and under fence lines with a little care. Though they don’t completely kill the root of many of the tougher perennial weeds, they sure do knock them back. Flaming the weeds prevents them from flowering and setting seed, and it works especially great for weeds growing in driveway and sidewalk cracks.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.