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Controlling Weeds

Updated on October 13, 2012

Controlling Weeds in the Landscape

A weed is an unwanted, nuisance plant and the bane of gardeners everywhere. Whether gardeners like it or not, weeds must be attended to lest they take over the garden. They are fast growing, prolific reproducers and generally can colonise places where nothing else will, or can grow.

In nature, there are no weeds, just plants, their role is to rapidly colonise any bare earth. They are in fact, the earths protector. Weeds tend to bring trace elements to the surface that are beneficial to other plants after the weeds have gone. But, gardeners, farmers, and councils, don't like them.

For gardeners and farmers, this is easily understood, as these opportunistic plants compete with crops and gardens, for space, sunlight, nutrients and water, also harbouring pests and disease. Councils think they are ugly and untidy - such are the delicate sensibilities of humans in general. At the moment, we will be concentrating on the effects of weeds on gardeners.

Although there are many ways to control or keep out weeds - weeds happen. When weeds do occur in your garden or landscape, although it is always best to get them when they are small or young, we are not always able to do so.

Some weeds, given the right conditions, are able to proceed from germination through to reproducing themselves within a week! Luckily, this is not the norm.

Generally, weeding is best done by hand. If you are able to get them when young, they can be easily taken care of by chipping with a hoe on a warm day, pricking them out with your fingers, or smothering with a layer of mulch.

If your weeds are a getting a bit big, either individually or in overall area, you have a number of options. Pulling by hand, is not merely a matter of grabbing a handful and hoiking them out. This method usually just pulls the tops off them, leaving the roots behind to regenerate. You have to get close to them.

This means getting down on your hands and knees and using your hands or maybe a small hand-tool to remove them. Grab the plant near the base to pull, we want to get the roots out as well. Not every single root, but the majority of them. Then shake the soil off.

I have seen far too many people, rip out the offending plant then hurl it away, soil and all. You need this soil, for your garden.

Whilst I'm banging on about it, do not throw the weeds in the rubbish bin. Weeds are a prime source of compost, provided they have not already gone to seed. If they have gone to seed, throw them onto the lawn - next time you mow they get chopped up, combined with the lawn clippings, and if this is then left in a pile, the heat from the lawn clippings will kill the seed.

Deep-rooted weeds like dandelion and sorrel, require digging deep to get the entire root out, as even small pieces left behind can re-emerge. There are tools specifically designed for pulling these types of weeds, that leave little damage to the surrounding garden in their wake. Do not throw the roots of these plants into the compost - they will survive.

Kikuyu, twitch, and the like, need to be attended to quickly. Kikuyu, in particular, has a high invasive potential due to its aggressive rhizomes and stolons, with which it penetrates the ground rapidly, forming dense mats, and out-competes practically everything else. These forms of invasive grasses, sometimes called runners, can also go deep - very fast.

The very nature of these plants spells back-ache, every joint on these plants has the potential to throw out roots and to re-produce itself. If the runner starts to dig into the soil, you have to dig and hunt the whole thing out, including branching - because they will break at the joint, anything left behind will start growing again. Be mindful, also, they have a particularly nasty habit of travelling under paths and the like.

The pulled out material can be composted, but you are far better of drying them out first - just to make sure.

Mulch is an excellent weed suppressor. Not only does it keep the weeds down, but also keeps moisture in the ground and slowly releases nutrient into the soil. Mulch can consist of: lawn clippings, wood-chips, newspaper, shredded paper, bark, straw, or compost. Black plastic is also excellent as a weed suppressor, although, if it is fairly thin it becomes unstable with exposure to the sun, tears, and looks pretty ratty after a while - then you have to get rid of it.

A quick fix is to use chemical weed killers and herbicides, but I do not recommend this for the home landscaper. They are very effective: often the most effective ways to get rid of weeds on a large scale. Additionally, they require very little effort to apply.

It is important, however, to be careful. The chemicals are harmful and if haphazardly applied, or used on windy days, can kill the plants that belong in your garden, possibly even the neighbours plants.

A better idea, if you are only concerned about small areas, or one or two weeds - is to boil the kettle. Indeed, if you pour boiling water onto any plant you will kill it. The bigger the weed or area of weeds the more boiling water you need.

Too simple? Try it. It works!

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