Tips for controlling weeds in the garden

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For gardeners, there is nothing better than sitting back and enjoying a well-maintained garden. And nothing worse than looking out and seeing weeds pop up to spoil the view. It is possible, however, to garden smart and minimize the impact weeds have in the garden.

It is already too late weeds have invaded

Hoping to prevent weed seeds from getting in the soil? It's too late. All soil is full of weed seeds. There is good news, though. Only seeds in the top two inches of soil will get what they need to germinate. Keep germination to a minimum by digging and turning over soil only when absolutely necessary. If, however, digging is needed, there are some studies that show turning soil after dark can reduce germination. Sudden flashes of light tell weed seeds to start growing — which is exactly what they experience when soil is tilled.

Mulch is a gardener's best friend

The shrubs and flowers a gardener plants all love mulch. Mulch has three main benefits: It keeps the soil cool, it helps keep moisture in the ground and it prevents weeds from getting the light they need to grow. A good quality organic mulch is the best because it will likely host bugs that like to eat weed seeds.

When putting mulch down in a garden, keep it to about two inches deep. More can deprive the soil of needed oxygen. By keeping it a few inches away from the base of other plants, it can also discourage insect invasions.

Weed and weed often

There is no way around it. Gardens require weeding. If gardening is a new venture, decide on a day for pulling weeds. This is one day a week when you will get out and weed. Weeds are easier to pull after a rain. Wet ground makes it easier to get the roots along with the plant. Pull from the base, near the soil line, to help get the entire plant.

If weeds grow back repeatedly, then it is time to dig them out. A knife can be helpful to sever the weeds from their roots and cut off the food supply. If you can't pull or dig out the weeds, cut off the tops to prevent seeding. This is most effective with perennial weeds but also works for annuals. Deadheading can prevent plants from raining seeds down around them, creating more weeds.

Prepare well for weeding day. Bring gloves and a pad for sitting or kneeling. Some recommend a table fork to help twist out root tendrils. Music can also help the time go by.

Close is good

Planting shrubs and flowers close together will choke out emerging weeds by shading the soil around them. Cover crops like phlox or lamb's ear are also helpful because once planted, they spread, which decreases the space weeds have to grow. Make sure when planting to follow the spacing recommendations for each plant. Those guidelines are set so that full-grown plants will be barely touching. Planting too close together will end up choking out the good plants and not just the weeds.

Water for the garden you want, not the one you have

Deprive weeds of essential moisture by watering only the plants that should be there. Keeping weeds thirsty can reduce germination by 50 to 70 percent. Use a drip or soaker hose under the mulch to accomplish this.

For the organic gardener

There are several effective ways to organically kill weeds. Vinegar is the most well-known method. If using this method, try to find food grade vinegar. The grocery store type will work slower and require more applications. Anything with more than food grade acetic acid concentrate will likely prevent anything from growing. Put the vinegar in a spray bottle with one teaspoon of liquid soap to help the vinegar stick to the plant.

Leftover boiling water from dinner can also kill weeds. A propane torch or steam machine will use heat to boil the plant cells. Boiled cells will then burst and die. If using a propane torch, make sure to do so after a rain and have a water hose handy. Don't linger on each plant — a fluid swiping motion will work best. Steam machines are best for large areas. Existing plants can be protected by placing a bucket over them. Make sure to wear shoes and cover up bare skin.

Weeds are an inescapable fact in every garden. They are not a result of poor skill — even the most experienced master gardener fights the weed battle. With some knowledge and basic hard work, gardens can be kept weed free and clean looking.

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