Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) appears after the soil warms in late spring or early summer. Common in rich, fertile soil, purslane's succulent stems and leaves stay close to the ground. Young leaves and stems are edible. Tiny flowers at stem tips quickly give way to seedpods. Purslane seeds can persist in soil for years, so pull young seedlings or cultivate older plants with a sharp hoe on hot, sunny days. Gather up plants and dry them in the sun before composting them. Crowd future generations with dense plantings.
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.
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.
Crowding plants. When plants grow so close together that the ground between them is shaded, sun-seeking weeds, such as pigweed and purslane, don't have a chance. Use double rows rather than single ones whenever possible in your vegetable garden. In flower beds, place flowers in closely spaced groups. As plants need more room to grow, thin them gradually so weeds get only a fleeting chance at good light. Plants with broad leaves, such as squash and cabbage, do a good job of crowding out weeds. Vigorous lawn grasses that form a tight turf naturally crowd out weeds. To keep turf tight, apply a slow-release organic fertilizer during your lawn's most active season of new growth. The recommended cutting height varies with different species of grass, but with any type of grass it's a good weed-preventive strategy to mow high and often. Long blades of grass often do a good job of shading out germinating weed seeds.Photo courtesy of Jenna Antonino DiMare, National Gardening Association
Article published on June 23, 2008.