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Controlling Weeds in your Lawn and Garden

You really don't need all those nasty chemicals, do you?

I don't know
Merriam-Webster defines a weed as "a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth; especially one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants"
For me to begin to tell you how to control and eliminate each individual weed, we would first have to come to a universal conclusion as to which plants should be included in our "official" weed list. This may begin to present problems, because one person's weed is another person's wild flower!
But then... a weed is a weed! Therefore, this is just a general, generic guide for you, to help you to control your weeds without using herbicides. If you have a plant in your garden which you don't like, designate it as a 'weed', and use this guide to help get rid of it!
Bees, Ladybugs, Praying Mantis, and other insects which prey on the destructive bugs in your garden often use weeds for their shelter and food. Critters, creatures, and even small children can inadvertently come in contact with these chemicals. I feel that it is far better to deal with these unwanted plants by hand-pulling and cultivation, and by following good gardening practices. I may never have a completely weed and pest free garden, but that's ok. If there is a weed that I missed, I'll just call it a wild flower!..
There is no comparison between home grown food and store bought I do not condemn the use of garden chemicals. I have used them, and will use them again. There are situations when using chemicals, either for insects or for weed control may become necessary. I am just not going to be the one to tell you when it is appropriate.
If you feel that it is necessary to use herbicides and weed killers in your garden, please consult an expert source on their proper use, such as Ortho. Remember, there is no single product which will kill all types of weeds, so choose and use carefully! Be sure that you are using the appropriate product for your weeds. Follow the directions exactly, and use the product sparingly (preferably, only as a direct application to a single weed, rather than over-spraying an entire area).

Weeds

The first step in controlling your weed problem is to be able to identify the plants which you consider to be weeds. (Sometimes it may be easier to identify the "keeper" plants, and eliminate everything else.) Unfortunately, by the time that some seedlings are large enough to identify as good or bad, they are also large enough to flower and scatter undesirable seeds throughout your garden. It is a good idea to have your perennial plants identified with a stake or marker, so that you will be able to quickly find their locations when they die back in the winter months. This will eliminate the chance of damaging or uprooting your valuable plants accidentally, as you are weeding.
The key to effective and quick weed control is to eradicate the weeds while they are still small. You will quickly learn by your own experience, which seedlings will grow into weeds. Once you know what to look for, it will just take a quick glance around the garden to spot an area that needs attention. As you go about your other gardening tasks, keep a cultivator handy, and if you spot a weed, take a second to "nip it in the bud"..... before it spreads.
As you gain control over the weeds, your other plants will gain the benefit of the light and the nutrients which the weeds were taking. Your plants will gain a new vigor, and their healthy new growth will help to choke out future weeds before they get a chance to grow.
By following good, basic gardening practices, most weeds can be successfully and easily controlled. Regular cultivation, the use of mulches, and a watchful eye will help to keep your garden healthy and beautiful for years to come.

Cultivating to control weeds

Cultivating is the process of breaking up the soil surface to aid you in removing the weeds. It is a much easier process, and the weeds are easier to remove if you do it when the soil is moist, but not wet. Hand-pulling and digging individual weeds with a trowel is fine for small gardens and raised beds, but for most gardens you will want a more substantial tool. There are many different garden tools which can be used for this task, but generally it is done with a hoe or a "cultivator". Cultivating is probably the most important way to control weed seedlings, and should be done while they are still small. Larger weeds and perennial types may need to be dug with a shovel, to be sure of eliminating all the roots. Generally though, your cultivating should be kept as shallow as possible, especially when you are weeding up close to your vegetable or flowering plants. Careful, shallow cultivation will help prevent damaging the root systems of your plants.
Once the weeds have been uprooted, they can be left on the surface of the soil to dry and wither. Annual weeds may be added to the compost pile if they have not flowered. Perennial weeds should be destroyed, or sent off with the trash. Whenever possible, the perennial weeds should be dug and removed prior to using any powered tillers in the garden, because these machines will chop up the perennial's roots, creating dozens of 'root cuttings' which will quickly grow into new weeds!
If your garden has already reached the 'lost cause' stage, before you roto-till, be sure to begin the restoration by using a gardening fork to dig and turn over all of the vegetation in the plot. Remove the perennial weeds and their roots from the garden, but you can allow the clumps of annual weeds to bake and dry in the sun, and then turn them over again. Repeat this process, until you are sure that the weeds are no longer a threat, and then till them into the soil. Undoubtedly, you will get several flushes of weed seedlings emerging in your patch during the next month or so. They will be easily raked off of the fresh soil surface, and soon be only a memory.

Mulching as an aid in weed control

Mulching is an extremely effective aid in controlling weeds, especially the annual varieties. Mulching also provides the additional benefits of conserving soil moisture, keeping the soil at a more uniform temperature, preventing erosion, and creating a more attractive garden appearance. A good mulch prevents the light from reaching the seeds which are sprouting at soil level. This lack of light prevents the seedlings from becoming established, and before they can reach sunlight, most will die.
A thick layer of organic mulch such as grass clippings, leaves, garden bark or other such materials is the best choice. Spreading one of these organic mulches several inches thick, throughout the garden will greatly aid in your weeding efforts, as well as improving the soil as it decomposes over time.
Synthetic mulches such as black polyethylene film or the commercially available 'weed blocker' mulches are also effective methods of weed control.
Weed blocker mulch material is the better of these two choices in most situations, because it allows the water and air to pass through, while blocking light. Weed blocker comes in rolls of different widths and sizes. It is easily cut to fit between rows and around plantings. A layer of garden bark is all that is needed to hide the cloth and add protection and beauty to the garden. Unfortunately, many perennial weeds will take advantage of the available air and water. Weeds which spread by runners or rhizomes may eventually manage to emerge from the edges of the mulch.
Black polyethylene film works well as a mulch in some cases. Because it blocks all light, and water, and air, it is perhaps the best choice for pathways and areas where you want nothing to grow. Even the toughest perennial weeds will eventually perish, thanks to this mulch. It is easily cut to fit, and when covered with landscaping bark or other decorative material, it will look great and prevent most weeds, for a long time.
Poly film traps a considerable amount of heat, and does not allow water to penetrate, so it should not be used around your perennials and flowering shrubs. It is useful between the planting rows of many vegetable crops which thrive in warm soil, such as tomatoes, eggplant, or melons.

Annual weeds vs perennial weeds

Like the flowering plants in your garden,
there are annual weeds (chickweed, crabgrass, thistles),
and there are perennial weeds (dandelion, blackberry, milkweed).
Controlling these two different types of weeds, requires different steps and different strategies.
Controlling Annual Weeds
Controlling Perennial Weeds