Ask a Question forum: Weed Control

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Name: Janice Hurd
Thompsonville Village, Ct. (Zone 6a)
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phoebesviolets
Apr 19, 2014 11:02 AM CST
I'm a member of my town's community garden and we have a Master gardener who is in charge. We had our 1st meeting of the season Monday, though the garden is not opening until May 3rd. :(
The master Gardener has instructed members NOT to pull weeds, but to cut them. She believes pulling just creates more weeds, whereas clipping eventually kills the weed w/o creating more weeds. Anyone have any experience with this method of weed control? BTW-it is an organic garden.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo F. Buscaglia
Name: cheshirekat
New Mexico, USA Zone 8 (Zone 8a)
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ckatNM
Apr 19, 2014 12:14 PM CST
Many weeds are able to propagate and spread underground, at the roots. Some weeds can easily be encouraged to grow when they feel threatened or injured because they automatically release chemicals (like hormones) that tell them to put significant energy into growing. Even when they are just small pieces. Weeds survive because their will to survive is often greater than any injuries it suffers, and that is what often has them classified as weeds. They grow easy, can't be killed easily, and spread easily. It is in their programming. For weeds that have extensive root systems, I doubt chopping off the tops will do anything but increase what is happening underground.

On the other hand, chopping off the top of a weed is much easier to do if you just don't want VISIBLE weeds. Even better if it is nowhere near where your food is growing and getting strangled by all the roots growing underneath.

If you want to use a community garden, sometimes it helps to do a bit of research and find ways to educate the masters without getting them defensive when they can be proven wrong. Horseradish can be very pervasive and the roots continue to grow when all that is above ground is cut off. It is not the only plant capable of doing this, and weeds aren't excluded from this feature. Annual weeds have roots that are shallow, so why not pull them out? Perennial weeds have extensive roots, so they just continue to grow after their tops are lopped off.

Try to provide resources/links so that the leader of your community garden is informed about weeds and how they propagate, just as others using the gardens will be. Also, don't toss weeds in the compost. I've known gardeners that think that composting is the worse thing ever because "it caused me to have more weeds than ever" and all because they pulled weeds and put them in the compost with all the other stuff. This is a no. Unless you have access to a commercial grade composter that can provide the super-intense heat needed to kill weeds and disease, don't put problems like diseased plants/leaves/weeds in the compost. It will just spread the problems throughout the garden.
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Name: Anne
Summerville, SC (Zone 8a)
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Xeramtheum
Apr 19, 2014 2:00 PM CST
I've had very good success with using the bread knife in controlling weeds in beds. When I use the method I only get about a 15% return and the second time around it seems to get rid of them for good.

http://garden.org/ideas/view/Xeramtheum/1237/Weeding-With-th...
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Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
Apr 19, 2014 8:49 PM CST
As cheshirecat said, I think it depends on which weed you're working on. I like Anne's bread knife method for the perennial grasses in my groundcover where I just can't get the roots out anyway. Cut the tops off enough times, the roots will eventually expire.

IF there's a chance to pull the roots out - small plants or shallow rooted annuals - it's just about the same amount of work as cutting off the tops anyway, isn't it? Plus you increase your odds of eliminating that weed in case it does regenerate from root cuttings.

If the weeds are in an open area like a mulch pathway, burning the tops under clear plastic in the sun has worked well, as long as it doesn't rain soon after . . or your irrigation is sprinkling where it shouldn't be.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Arlene
Southold, Long Island, NY (Zone 7a)
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pirl
Apr 20, 2014 7:15 AM CST
I never "pull" weeds or the roots are left behind to grow again. I dig them out and it needn't be a huge shovel to do the job. A simple trowel does the job.

I've been gardening over 50 years and wouldn't ever consider cutting the tops off and allowing it to grow so you can cut it off every week for the rest of your life. Why not do it right the first time?
Name: Carole
Clarksville, TN (Zone 6b)
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SongofJoy
Apr 20, 2014 7:34 AM CST
So true.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched -- they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller
Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
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dave
Apr 20, 2014 7:41 AM CST

Garden.org Admin

I agree

We do pull our weeds and leave them where we pull them. It only takes a day or two in the sun for the weeds to wither away and disappear. We do this before the weeds can make seed heads.

If we are ever late and they are starting to make seeds, we pull the plants out and put them a large heap away from the garden. That heap will subsequently be spread on a garden somewhere after it's had a long chance to compost.
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
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Leftwood
Apr 20, 2014 8:54 AM CST
It sounds like your master gardener is merely repeating what she has heard, was told or was taught. She didn't offer any reasoning behind the practice, unless you neglected to relay that in the post (in which case, shame on you). "More weeds will come up" is not a reason. A reason would be an explanation why it is better than other methods of weed control.

There are many ways that weeds can benefit, not that those would necessarily outweigh the benefits of pulling, but there are a few reasons I see that are specific to the cutting approach. Here, I assume "cutting" means above ground level.

---- Obviously, removal of any seed producing part if the plant will help prevent the spread of said weeds.
---- Every square foot of ground will have hundreds (or thousands) of seeds just waiting for the opportune time to sprout. Pulling weeds, especially large ones, will jostle and turn over soil, bringing dormant seeds to the right conditions (most often the right depth) to begin germination. So no pulling means no germination of these dormant seeds.
---- Probably the main factor limiting weed germination is moisture availability. Seeds need free water in the soil to absorb and germinate with. Keeping the soil zone populated with roots of plants is an excellent way to suck up this free moisture quickly and prevent seed germination.
*** For the most part, this is how thick lawns prevent weeds. They prevent weed seeds from germinating by using up free soil moisture quickly, before seeds can germinate. Again for the most part, once a weed seed germinates, you've lost "the battle." ***
So no pulling weeds keeps their roots intact, keeps the soil zone with less free water, and less new germination weeds. This is a concept used by nature, wild space reclamation, permaculture and many other plant related systems.
---- Compared to bare ground, weeds do provide shade and help slow soil moisture loss when it is below the "free water" level of capacity. I am sure most of you have tackle your weeding incrementally at one time or another, and have observed this. When you return the next day to finish weeding a heavily infested garden, you discover the soil is dry where you had weeded, but the soil is moist where you still need to weed.

The real question is: are these reasons an overall benefit to the community garden. If it is like most community gardens, I'd say no. For instance, a soil zone filled with weed roots will hamper vegetable (and flower) production very significantly.
Name: cheshirekat
New Mexico, USA Zone 8 (Zone 8a)
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ckatNM
Apr 20, 2014 9:30 AM CST
I had a neighbor that took it upon herself to become the weed police. She lived right across the street from me and we would often talk about garden stuff in the middle of the street. She wouldn't wait for you to weed. If she saw weeds, you can bet she would head over to your yard and dig the weeds up. She especially had an intense passion for eradicating dandelions. Her lawn had to be pristine at all times.

She wouldn't weed in my yard, because she knew that I poked around in my yard every day. But then the two houses to the south of me became empty and the dandelions had her talking to herself quite frequently as she headed over with her butter knife. The ground on our side of the street was hard as rock if not watered and amended. Which made weeding much more work. But she was out there almost every day digging up the dandelions so they wouldn't end up in her yard. Mine was so heavily mulched that I didn't have to worry about the dandelions. I was fighting the grass coming from all sides. I had everything planted so densely so I'd never have to mow again. She told me my yard was scary. She didn't have any idea what most of the stuff I grew was, and I liked plants witha lot of thorns because her cat thought my yard was a litter box. Although I didn't have any sand whatsoever.

Some weeds are easy to snatch up when they are under two inches and don't have extensive root systems. But once they hit the four inch mark, a trowel is needed because the roots are more than twice thicker. The worst are those with thorns. I saw one of those nearby where my peas are growing. I told the roommate that if he ever sees them, they have to be dug up right away. A friend grew some "wildflower" mix seeds one year and the only thing that grew was a dense patch of those weeds that are like mascara brushes. They dig into your clothes and never cry uncle. They went into the washing machine immediately, but it was too late for me. I had welts all over my arms and legs. I think there were only a dozen flowers out of those four packets of seeds. Because they were supposed to be wildflowers, he let them grow and grow until they were about 4 feet tall before I told him I'd help dig them up. I knew they were weeds at 1 foot tall but he wanted to be sure no more flowers would come - it was four entire packets in just about 20'x2' area.

I walk around my yard inspecting anything that grows and looking for bugs. I'm not as familiar with the weeds here yet, but I make it a point to check out all that is growing in my neighbor's yards. If it starts growing in my yard, I can get rid of it quickly. As gardeners, it helps to know the weeds in our areas and how they propagate. Then we know how to get rid of them. Like most people know to take care of dandelions before they become fluffy lollipops. The local agricultural extension or university is also helpful. Although some info is only meant for farmers with acres of weeds to destroy. It will let you know the common weeds in your area. I never had morning glories until I planted something on the north side of my yard. I inspect all new plants much more carefully when planting now. My husband wanted me to let them grow. I know a lot of people that like them, but in Denver they are invasive. And such a pain to follow the vines to discover how much it had spread and tangled. I never got rid of them once they reached the strawberry patch. O could only limit their growth.

Anyhow, get some information about the local weeds and their propagation and then look up different methods for getting rid of them.

Dave, I pull weeds and leave them in a pile, to gather them up before heading inside. I'm too chicken to leave them out to dry more than a few minutes. I like to be rid of them. My roommate sometimes puts them in a bucket and forgets they are in there. I come along to get the bucket and the weeds are happily growing in the bucket with no dirt. And the one planter that has holes in the bottom, I've seen piles of dead weeds with their roots sticking out of the bottom, looking for some soil to grow in.
"A garden is a friend you can visit any time." - Anonymous
Name: Janice Hurd
Thompsonville Village, Ct. (Zone 6a)
"Where flowers bloom so does hope"
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phoebesviolets
Apr 22, 2014 4:34 PM CST
Thanks everyone for sharing your knowledge and experience! I think, for now, I won't be able to resist pulling/digging out the weeds. I do try to get to them before they seed, and they never go in the compost. We do not have that withering Texas sun, and the New England summer humidity keeps them alive forever. Rolling my eyes. I will, however be keeping a close eye on those
gardeners who follow the Master Gardener's direction and cut their weeds. I'll come back and let you know if I learn anything.
Thank You!
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo F. Buscaglia
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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RickCorey
Apr 22, 2014 5:42 PM CST
I've been hoping for years that the advice about "no weeds in compost" was unnecessary. Weeds are almost the only green I have lots of. I was hoping that most weed seeds would rot or sprout and then die while in the heap, since I do turn it and it is always moist.

However, for two years now, I've had huge, dense monocrops of weeds spring up where I top-dressed with my compost.

I think it was good advice that I should have followed!
Name: Arlene
Southold, Long Island, NY (Zone 7a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Tomato Heads Houseplants Garden Ideas: Level 1 Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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pirl
Apr 22, 2014 5:46 PM CST
It was a total failure for us, too, Rick. We had so many weeds that I have to believe even the heat of the compost piles won't kill the weed seeds. We stopped putting the weeds into our compost bins about fifteen years ago and haven't had any major weeds since then.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Apr 22, 2014 6:25 PM CST
A lot of my garden learning is finding out which things I read are just hot air that's been passed along for many generations and only apply in some conditions ... and which are vital do this OR ELSE absolute requirements.

Then there are other kinds of advice where after doing it wrong for a few years, I realize "Oh, THAT'S what that meant!"
Name: Arlene
Southold, Long Island, NY (Zone 7a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Tomato Heads Houseplants Garden Ideas: Level 1 Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Plant Identifier
pirl
Apr 22, 2014 6:44 PM CST
You are not alone!
Name: cheshirekat
New Mexico, USA Zone 8 (Zone 8a)
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ckatNM
Apr 22, 2014 10:25 PM CST
RickCorey said:A lot of my garden learning is finding out which things I read are just hot air that's been passed along for many generations and only apply in some conditions ... and which are vital do this OR ELSE absolute requirements.

Then there are other kinds of advice where after doing it wrong for a few years, I realize "Oh, THAT'S what that meant!"


Many of us go through that. It is only when specific details are explained will we have the "Aha!" moments. Until then, we are working with specific pieces of different puzzles and trying to make the outcome a picture in which we have no puzzle pieces. I learn through trial and error and trying to figure out ways to make things better for me to continue gardening. Additionally, I learn from discussions and reading too much. I can talk for hours about gardening. I'm fairly lazy once I start heading out to the garden with a bowl and maybe a jar of honey. I'd rather spend less time weeding (which I truly hate, except for the weeds that are close enough to my plants for me to bend down and give my little plants a little of my carbon dioxide while I'm killing the vile creature stealing nutrients so close to my plants. Hey! That's my food and you are just too close!

Spending more time in my garden grazing and taking photos is what I like most to do. So, I would really like to get past the weeds stage. Getting past the "I have no seeds coming up yet" stage is pretty torturous for me as well. I'd like to have more time to experiment with stuff like how many different varieties of my landscaping can I consume in one day. Aren't those kind of tasks and adventures much more enjoyable and engaging? Yeah, they would be if we didn't have to spend so much time unlearning stuff we have practiced so much that they are hard habits to break. But some stuff takes a while to sink in, and sometimes stuff just seeps out and we forget them many times before they are committed to a retrievable section of our memories.

By the way, many local resources are available to discover which specific weeds are specific to the area we live/garden in. Most of those resources provide some technical jargon how to be rid of those weeds. More often termed invasive species. For people that exchange plants, or purchase plants, the chance of introducing new weeds to our gardens is so high that we may as well accept that we bought both plants and weeds. And you get to learn about those new weeds you brought home. If they are they type that adapt to the environment- they may just go dormant. This is the reason some people only grow native species. Indigenous species are quickly losing ground to non-native species that spread, naturalize, and compete for natural resources needed by indigenous species.

Just thought I'd toss in more food for thought. I got all caught up in learning all this when I did some lobbying and was able to spend time with some experts that opened my eyes about a lot of stuff about my garden. I've never been able to look at weeds or composting the same way again. I'm still fascinated by it all, most likely because I can't possibly remember it all. However, I haven't surrendered all my non-native edibles and I never will, if I can help it.
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