Weeds are unsightly and can take over a garden or lawn quickly if not managed properly.
Not only are weeds unsightly, but they can also be harmful to plants and grass. Weeds compete with desirable plants for water, sunlight, and nutrients, which can stunt the growth of desired plants.
Weed management is important in order to maintain a healthy garden or lawn. Proper weed management includes identifying the types of weeds present, using the correct herbicide for those weeds, and proper application techniques.
Understanding weed management
One problem with using natural methods to prevent weed growth is that some plants are more difficult to control than others and the time it takes to implement this form of weed management to effective results will be considerably longer than conventional means.
Weed management is an important part of maintaining a healthy and beautiful landscape. There are many ways to control weed growth, both conventional and natural. Each has its own set of pros and cons, depending on the situation.
Conventional weed management methods
Conventional methods of weed management include:
- hand pulling and hoeing
- mulching (machine weed control)
- spraying herbicides
Each of these conventional weed management methods has its advantages and disadvantages.
Hand pulling and hoeing
Hand weeding: Although considered the most labour-intensive and least effective way to prevent weed growth, hand pulling of weeds can also be an effective method for controlling smaller patches of weeds in your landscape. However, this method will not be effective if the weeds have gone to seed.
Hoeing: Hand removal of weeds is another common method of weed control. A hoe can be used to pull up larger annuals while edging beds and walkways can help keep them looking neat.
A weed hoe is a good option if you have a small garden or one that can be easily accessed.
Mulching: This is the practice of covering the ground with a layer of organic or inorganic material to suppress or prevent the germination of weed seeds. Organic mulches such as wood chips, straw, pine needles, sheet-type plastic or even grass clippings can be used.
The advantage of organic mulches is that they improve the soil and suppress weed growth at a fraction of the cost of herbicides. However, organic mulches will need to be replaced after a certain period because they break down over time and may not be aesthetically pleasing in the long run.
Inorganic mulches such as plastic or rocks can be permanent and aesthetically pleasing, but take a substantial amount of time to install and cost more money than organic mulches. In addition, inorganic mulches will need to be removed when they become unsightly or worn out.
If you choose to use mulch, you should apply it as soon as the soil warms up in spring to prevent weed germination.
Machine weed control: There are a number of machines that can be used for weed management, including motorized wheel hoes, mulch mowers and powered lawn edgers.
However, they all share some common drawbacks: they are expensive to purchase and maintain; they require regular service which may be difficult to find depending on where you live; and they can be difficult to manoeuvre around trees, rocks and shrubs.
Herbicides are chemicals that kill plants. They come in two types:
Selective herbicides kill only plants that are listed on the label.
Non-selective herbicides kill all plants, including the desired plants and weeds.
It’s easy to understand why you might want to use herbicides as part of your weed management plan when spraying your garden. The problem is, that not all herbicides are the same and some can be detrimental to other plants in your garden. When it comes time for a new round of weed spraying, it’s important that you pick a selective or non-selective herbicide to suit your needs.
Ultimately, choosing the method, cost and timeframe that you have, will be some of the factors that affect your decision. Likewise, you might wish to go the natural way as an alternative. see below.
Natural weed management methods
Natural weed control methods include:
- physical barriers (row covers, straw mulch)
- smothering (plastic sheet or landscape fabric)
- biological means (milky spore disease for grubs)
Many of these methods are labour-intensive and will need to be repeated for each growing season.
Physical Barriers: There are several types of physical barriers that can help with weed management, including the use of row covers, inverted landscape fabric or mulches.
Row covers can be used to exclude certain weeds from an area where they’re not wanted. However, they are removed each growing season, which will require an initial investment of time every year.
Inverted mulches are made from landscape fabric that is cut into strips and then inverted along the edge of a bed or garden to prevent weed growth. They can be left in place for many years but must be installed correctly so they don’t actually allow weeds to grow through.
Straw mulches made from pine needles or other plant matter can be used to prevent weed growth in perennial beds at a fraction of the cost of fabric or plastic. However, the straw will need to be removed and replaced each season so it is not a permanent solution.
Plastic sheeting: Black plastic sheeting may also be used to prevent weed growth in beds, but it should only be applied for one season. If left in place longer than one growing season, it can become too hot for the plants beneath and damage them.
An onion weed barrier is a lightweight, porous fabric that can be used as an alternative to black plastic sheeting or weed fabric. It allows water and air to penetrate through but prevents light from reaching the soil surface, where weed seeds sprout.
Smothering: There are several smothering materials that can suppress or prevent weed growth by blocking light from reaching their leaves including plastic sheeting, weed fabric (landscape fabric with no holes in it) or wood mulches that are at least 3 inches thick.
Compost is also an effective weed deterrent because it attracts beneficial soil organisms that are natural enemies of weeds. Organic matter should be turned into the soil several times each year, which will help it break down more quickly.
Organic mulches like wood chips or bark are suitable for permanent use in some areas, but they will need to be replaced after several years because they break down slowly and can cause organic matter levels to drop. When used as a top dressing on established lawns, they can also provide weed control by depriving weeds of light.
However, these materials will need to be replaced after one season because they don’t break down naturally and can become unsightly over time. They may also kill plants underneath them so you should keep their use to areas where they are not likely to be in contact with desired plants, including shrubs and trees.
Biological Control: Biological control of weeds can be very effective if done correctly, but it is generally considered a long-term solution because it doesn’t kill the entire weed population. Damping-off or root rot disease is caused by naturally occurring soil fungi (Pythium and Rhizoctonia) that infect seedlings at the soil line, causing them to collapse or rot.
The problem can be prevented by starting plants indoors in a sterilized growing mix and potting soils should not be reused from one season to the next.
Milky spore disease kills Japanese beetle grubs (white grubs), which are the larval stage of scarab beetles. The use of a milky spore is another long-term solution because it requires several years to build up in the soil to control all white grubs in your area.
Weed management is an important part of a healthy garden. Weeds can compete with desired plants for water, sunlight, and nutrients, leading to decreased growth or even death of your desired plant.
Additionally, weeds can harbour pests and diseases that can affect your desirable plants. Proper weed management is key to keeping your landscape looking its best and minimizing potential problems.
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