Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) is a fast-growing summer annual. Common in gardens throughout North America, young lambsquarters leaves are edible. Older leaves have white undersides. Do not allow plants to develop seeds, which can number in the thousands. Control young plants in vegetable gardens by cultivating with a sharp hoe or spraying them with an organic herbicide containing acetic acid or clove oil. Pull older plants when the soil is moist, but do not compost plants that hold seeds. Mulch will suppress late germinators.
Cultivating. Slicing and dicing weeds with a hoe works best when the soil is relatively dry, and the same goes for cultivating with a tiller. With their tops mangled and roots cut, most young weeds will quickly shrivel up and die. Be careful to cultivate only the top inch or two of soil or you may injure nearby garden plant roots and drag new weed seeds to the surface. A sharp hoe works much better than a dull one, so refresh the edge on your hoe with a steel file between weeding sessions. After using either a hoe or tiller to cultivate weeds, go back the next day to nip out any survivors. When battling perennial weeds, you can weaken the plants by chopping them down with a sharp hoe, but it's best to combine hoeing with digging to achieve good control. Never use a tiller in soil that is infested with bindweed, quackgrass, or other weeds that regrow from small pieces of root; they are easily spread by rototilling.
Organic herbicides. There are several herbicides made from natural ingredients. Those that contain clove oil (eugenol) give the best control of young broadleaf weeds. Products containing acetic acid, often in combination with citric acid, do a good job on young grasses. Some products contain both clove oil and acetic acid, so they are useful for a broad variety of weeds. Soap-based herbicides dehydrate leaves by cutting through their protective layer of cutin. All of these types of organic herbicides work best on young weeds and pose only a temporary setback to well-rooted perennial weeds. To minimize damage to neighboring plants, spray only in dry, still weather. To maximize effectiveness, spray young weeds when temperatures are above 70 degrees F and the sun is shining brightly. Be aware that repeated applications of a product containing acetic acid (which is very strong vinegar) can lower the soil's pH, making it more acidic.
Pulling. Most young weeds can be pulled from the soil. They will slide out most easily if you pull them when the soil is wet. Getting the root up is crucial, so think of the main stem as the root's handle, and grasp it as close to the soil line as you can. If you find that the weeds are breaking off at the crown as you pull, slip a kitchen fork, dandelion weeder, or similar tool under the weed, and pry and twist as you pull it up. Weeds that have taproots, such as dandelion and plantain, usually must be pried out. A flexible pair of waterproof gloves will keep your hands comfortable as you weed, and it's good to have a nice sitting pad, too. Let pulled weeds bake in the sun for a day or so before composting them. If pulled weeds are holding mature seeds, compost them separately in a hot, moist pile before using this compost in the garden.
Mulching. Mulch that's more than 2 inches thick can deprive most weed seeds of the light they need to germinate and grow. In vegetable and flower gardens, you can mulch with wheat straw (which has fewer weed seeds than hay), chopped leaves, grass clippings, or many other organic materials. Where weeds are numerous, try covering the soil with four to six sheets of newspaper. Then cover the newspapers with 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch. Pieces of scrap carpeting make a good weed-suppressing mulch to use in pathways between rows. When mulching beneath shrubs and trees, place a sheet of landscape fabric over the soil, then cover it with 3 inches of organic mulch. An edging (a 4- to 6-inch-wide strip of rot-proof material driven into the ground vertically) of brick, stone, or metal will help the mulch stay put, halt invasion by creeping weeds, and make the bed look neat and well groomed.Image courtesy of Plant Stock Photos
Article published on June 23, 2008.