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Summer is here and gardens are abloom. Unfortunately, your herbs and veggies aren’t the only things that love this time of year. Garden invaders, like sorrel, clover and crabgrass are growing strong too. Here are some ways to keep the weeds out of your garden without resorting to nasty chemicals that will damage the quality of your crops and your soil.
1. Pull them…
Sure this sounds simple, but anyone who has tried to keep up with weeds by pulling them knows that it’s not always so easy. For weeds close to your herbs or veggies in raised beds and containers, it’s often the best way to go. The best time to pull weeds is when the soil is still moist from watering. Pull slowly from the base of the weed to get the best chance of pulling a root out and make sure to use garden gloves for spiny plants like thistles.
You can collect all the weeds you’ve pulled and add them to your compost pile, so they’re actually contributing to the health of your garden. Some weeds, like Dandelions, Purslane and Miner’s Lettuce are edible and can be absolutely delicious. If this interests you, find a foraging guide that was written for your area and make sure you’ve positively identified something before serving it for dinner.
2. Suffocate them…
Just like the plants you actually want in your garden beds, weeds have a hard time surviving without adequate sunlight. You can kill existing weeds, prevent new ones from growing, AND help keep moisture in the soil for the plants you do want using a little bit of old newspaper and some garden mulch. Simply cover the area with several layers of large newspaper strips (newspaper is biodegradable), then put enough mulch on top of the paper to cover it completely. If some strong weeds manage to push through your first attempt, just add another layer of newspaper and then some more mulch.
3. Mix up some homemade herbicide….
Get a good quality spray bottle and fill it with 2 c. white vinegar, ½ c. salt and a tiny bit of dish soap. Make sure you mix it up very well so the salt dissolves as much as possible or the spray bottle might get clogged up. Be careful using this remedy near your garden beds because it could kill your veggies as well. If you’re having trouble with the sprayer getting clogged you can also try a 50/50 vinegar and water solution.
4. Scald Them…
Next time you’re boiling potatoes or pasta, instead of dumping the water down the drain, dump it right onto the weeds growing in the cracks of your sidewalk or patio or along garden paths. Don’t try this method with garden beds as it will damage the quality of your soil and kill anything it touches.
5. Salt Them…
This is another method you need to be very careful with and is best for areas where you don’t want anything to grow again, ever. But a simple sprinkling of salt along the edges of your lawn, between cracks in the sidewalk or in garden pathways will kill weeds. Be careful though, it leaves the soil barren and can damage concrete. At the end of the snowy season you can usually get a pretty good deal on rock salt, which works great for this, but any kind of salt will do.
6. Burn Them…
This is my favorite weed killing method. You can get a propane powered weed scorcher at most garden stores (or just use a handheld blow-torch, like the kind you’d use for making crème brulee). You don’t have to actually set the weeds on fire – in fact in an area with dry grass that can be pretty dangerous – just running a hot flame over them will usually cause them to lose all their internal moisture, they will shrivel up and die in just a few days.
7. Crowd Them Out…
For ornamental garden areas, you can use a bit of advanced planning to make sure you’ll rarely (or never) have to pull weeds. You can go to your local nursery and find many ground covering plants for shade and sun that will prevent weeds from getting the sunlight, water and soil nutrients they need to survive. Researchers from Cornell University have identified the following plants as exceptional at suppressing weeds:
- Emerald blue moss phlox (phlox subulata)
- Thriller lady’s mantle (alchemilla mollis)
- Walker’s low catmint (nepeta x faasenii)
- Golden fleece dwarf goldenrod (solidago sphacelata)
- Albiflouros creeping thyme (thymus praecox)
- Herman’s pride false lamium (lamiastrum galeobdolon)
- Majestic lilyturf (liriope)
8. Plan ahead and Solarize your beds…
If you have any empty garden beds during the summer (even late spring if you live in a warmer area), you can get them ready for autumn planting by solarizing them. This will get rid of any weeds that are growing now and cut back on the number that will grow in the upcoming season (as Ben Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”). If done properly, it can also wipe out soil borne diseases and many garden pests. All you will need is some thin, clear plastic that you can find at most garden stores.
Before you begin, till and rake the soil clear of any debris and dig a small trench (about 8” deep) around the outer edges of the bed. Lay the plastic over the bed and place the edges in the trench you dug. Re-fill the trenches with soil, making sure the plastic fits tightly around the bed so it won’t blow away or get moved around.
Leave the plastic there for 4-6 weeks. When you remove it, till the soil again and add in your compost or fertilizers. You will have a healthy garden bed, ready for autumn planting that will have significantly less weeds than your other beds.
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