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Professional secrets for controlling weeds from the Whistling Gardener

Managing weeds is one of those gardening chores that can seem like an endless job (sort of like painting the Golden Gate Bridge). As soon as you finish one bed it’s time to start over on another. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just weed once a year and be done with it. Well, read on and I will give you some tips that will almost get you to that point.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo credit: Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Green Whiskers drive me nuts! Let’s face it, gardening can be a lot of work. But like any task, if you know a few tricks of the trade it can be a lot easier.

Managing weeds is one of those gardening chores that can seem like an endless job (sort of like painting the Golden Gate Bridge). As soon as you finish one bed it’s time to start over on another. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just weed once a year and be done with it? Well, read on and I will give you some tips that will almost get you to that point.

First off we need to understand that seeds of all kinds generally need some degree of light in order to germinate. Bare ground with some moisture in it will always generate weeds in our gardens. Also, we need to recognize that most of our problem weeds germinate in the fall and early winter and remain hardly noticeable until spring when they seemingly over night explode into a morass of succulent green foliage and we wonder where they all of a sudden came from.

If we could have prevented these weeds from germinating in the fall we would not be experiencing these kinds of problems.

There are two basic ways to stop germination, cover the soil with mulch or use a pre-emergent weed product like Bonide Weed Preventer or Corn Gluten or Casoron.

Using mulches like compost or bark works by smothering the seeds that may have already germinated and by blocking light from reaching the seeds that have yet to germinate. Mulches also insulate the soils from harsh temperatures and protect tender plants and depending on the composition of the mulch can also add nutrients and micro-organisms to our garden soils. A one inch layer is all that is needed, not 3-4 inches like you may read about in other publications.

Using pre-emergent herbicides either synthetic or natural only works when you apply them BEFORE the weeds have germinated. They can be a huge time saver for a busy gardener but you must read the label carefully. Some are safe to use around annuals and bulbs and even veggies and others can be applied around woody plants like rhodies and roses. Some will last an entire season while others are only effective for 3-4 months.

By this time of year when I am seeing “green whiskers” everywhere I know that I have missed my window of opportunity to apply them (which sometimes frustrates the heck out of me). At this point in my gravel paths my only options are to spray with something like Round Up and then apply the pre-emergent or use Casoron which works like both a pre-emergent and post-emergent (kills weeds already growing).

For garden beds that already have weed growth the best tact is to cover the weeds (if they are small) with mulch and then for extra insurance apply a pre-emergent. If the weeds are 3 inches or taller then of course they will need to be removed before the mulch is applied.

Believe it or not, following these procedures will reduce weed control to only a twice a year ordeal with an occasional errant weed to remove easily by hand. Weed preventers and mulches can be found at any reputable garden center.

If all this talk of weed control has exhausted you then I suggest you forget all about it and attend our class this Saturday at 10am on making a terrarium (where you will find very few if any weeds to worry about). Call to reserve a space. This is a "Make and Take" class and costs $40.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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