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July 24, 2014
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How to kill weeds without herbicides

Straw mulch discourages weeds and helps keep moisture in the soil. A thick layer of dried grass clippings from your lawn works well, too.
Contributed photos


At this point in the growing season just about everyone who grows a garden or tends a flower bed has a common nemesis: the common garden weed. Of course, this common weed is not just one measly pest. Instead, it is a compilation of many different plants that all want the same thing: to invade our space. There is dandelion, sow thistle, carpet weed and crabgrass to name a few of the more intrusive varieties. While we all wish that our gardens were tame and beautiful from all angles, we must realize that this is the way it works. Growing a garden means you will be growing weeds as well.

The issue comes down to learning how to manage weeds. At this point in time, people are starting to really question the continual use of herbicides and chemicals in and around the garden. There is an awakening drive in finding safe and sustainable ways to control weeds in the garden. It is not just our own health that we need to take into consideration, but also that of our planet and future generations to come.
There are a number of preventative measures to take in the initial stages of garden planning at the beginning of each season that can help minimize weed growth and ease management.

All weeds steal nutrients, water, and sunlight from young crops. Not only is it an eye sore, but a carpet of weeds can seriously stunt your harvest. Figuring out the different methods of maintaining a sense of harmony and balance in the garden is a must for everyone interested in growing a garden. With a bit of time and effort, and finding your own personal rhythm, you should be able to find a gardening pace with less labor, in letting the garden work in harmony with nature, so that you can sit back and enjoy the time you have watching your garden grow.
[Editor’s note: The Wayne Conservation District will hold a Cover Crop and Food Plot Demo on August 24 at 9 a.m. at the County Farm, 247 Bethel School Road off of Rte. 652 between Indian Orchard and Beach Lake. This program is for both farmers and home gardeners. Learn about the different varieties of cover crops and their purposes. Call 570/253-0930 for information and/or directions, or visit www.wayneconservation.org.]

Tips and Tricks

1. Use raised garden beds: Raised garden beds provide clear pathways and work as barriers against invading plants. The soil conditions are able to be more controlled with less exposure to foreign seeds.

2. Weed often and early: Young weeds are much easier to pull then mature plants. Hand tools are useful in digging up long tap roots, however, a stirrup hoe, also known as an oscillating hoe, is one of the best tools a gardener can own. It works great for fighting established weeds in heavy soil and will alleviate the strain on your back of bending over to weed.

3. Mulch your plants: There are many different methods of mulching your garden. My favorite method is to layer wet newspaper, or cardboard, around your plants and top with straw. The newspaper will prevent the germination and growth of weed seeds and the straw will give it a tidier appearance. Once the season is over, it will all break down, adding nutrients and organic matter back into the soil.

4. Plant cover crops: Cover crops are also known as green manures, providing organic matter and nutrients to garden plants as an alternative or in addition to compost. Although cover crops are usually incorporated into the soil before they flower, they can also be used as dead-plant mulch. Cover crops can be mowed down to create thick dead-plant mulch, into which new plants can be planted in. Not only do cover crops work to suppress weeds without herbicides, but they also discourage disease, enrich the soil, and keep rainwater in the garden. Cover crops also boost the microbial life in the soil, fostering fungi and bacteria that are helpful to growing better plants. The best dead-plant mulch for the home gardener comes from fall planted wheat, triticale, or rye. It will be ready to be cut down into mulch the following early summer, right before the plants starts to flower. (See editor’s note on page 12.)