Please don't use chemicals, urges Natural Gardener columnist Valerie Easton. Herbicides leave their nasty residue in the soil far longer than we thought.
EVERYTHING IN the garden is blossoming this time of year, including weeds and our perpetual frustration with them. Weeds can take up way too much time and energy, or you can deal with them promptly and move on.
The classic definition of a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place. Weeds are nature’s opportunists, taking root, quite literally, in any bit of bare soil. Whether they blow in on the breeze or are spread about in the feces of birds and animals hardly matters. All too often we introduce the marauders ourselves, in pot-grown plants, compost or topsoil.
However they arrive, weeds are vigorous colonizers, beating out more desirable plants in the quest for water, light and nutrients. Worse, weeds spread pests and diseases. It’s a jungle out there.
Before we get into tried-and-true weed-fighting strategies, please take these two bottom-line tactics to heart. Lighten up and accept imperfection. Gardens are outdoors, after all, and the definition of a weed is flexible. Another person’s nightmare might be your expanse of violets, Japanese anemones or lily-of-the-valley.
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Second, and I implore you, don’t use chemicals. More research is coming out that herbicides leave their nasty residue in the soil far longer than we thought. These toxins pollute our drinking water, kill honeybees and other beneficial insects, and may well cause cancer. You don’t want such poisons anywhere near your pets, your children, your family.
Instead, practice weed birth control. Get rid of weeds early before they go to seed and spread their babies far and wide. Younger, smaller weeds are easier to kill. If I catch weeds early in my gravel driveway, I just scuff them out with the toe of my shoe.
This may sound obvious, but if you are buying property, check out the garden for bindweed and horsetail before you do; I wouldn’t sign papers if I saw either of them. Home inspections should include these especially destructive weed warnings.
Weed frequently and thoroughly. Weeds come up much more easily when the ground is damp, so get outside after a rainstorm and have at it. If you remove all the leaves and as much of the root as you can, the weed will die (eventually). Every plant needs its leaves to feed its roots.
For weeds that are hard to pull, like dandelions with those long tap roots, just cut the weed off at the base. You may have to do this several times, but it’s efficient, and even plants that regrow from the roots will give up after two or three beheadings. Try different tools, from trowels to CobraHead weeders to see which suit you best.
Remember that nature loves a vacuum. Your job is to cover the ground, or nature will. So plant thickly, and fill in with ground covers between shrubs and perennials. Lay down a layer of mulch to smother the weeds.
Do your research before planting anything. How many of us rue the day we ever planted English ivy, tricolored chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata) or even Sedum ‘Angelina,’ pretty as it is, to rampage around our gardens?
We all have pet techniques. You can walk around the garden with a tea kettle, pouring boiling water on weeds. Or douse them with vinegar, bleach or salt; all these methods have their advocates. Me? I put on my iPod, pick up my propane torch (aka flame weeder) and fry the suckers.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Susan Jouflas is a Seattle Times staff illustrator.