Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
October, 2003
Regional Report

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How can anything this attractive be such a formidable foe in my garden?

Winter Weeds Bring Spring Woes

Most gardeners I know tolerate weeding and accept it as a necessary part of gardening. However, I like to weed! Weeding provides time alone and time to think ? both precious commodities in my busy life. Usually, by the time the weeds are all pulled, I've had ample opportunity to resolve a conflict, plan some new activity, or learn another fascinating fact at the hands of Mother Nature. I read in a book somewhere that "Nature abhors a vacuum." I think in the purest sense, vacuum could mean void, in which case I concur. The bottom line is that unplanted soil will sprout whatever it wants, usually weeds, to fill the void.

A few weeks ago I prepared a bed for planting and then got busy with other things. When I returned recently, it was thick with chickweed and bittercress. I'm sure these weeds have some virtues, but not in my garden, and certainly not where I want to transplant strawberries!

Knowing the Enemy
Weeds can indicate certain soil conditions. For instance, horsetail and creeping buttercup grow wherever there's an abundance of moisture. Quackgrass indicates poor, compacted soils with low fertility, and dandelions love moist, acidic soils. They grow especially well in my lawn. In fact, our resident dandelions seem to have the ability to duck whenever a lawnmower passes by.

Knowing their preference for loose, highly fertile soils, I guess it's a compliment to my skills as a gardener that chickweed and bittercress have chosen to take root in my garden. While I appreciate the tribute, I prefer strawberries to the weeds' tiny white and yellow flowers. Out with the weeds and in with the crowns!

Mulching Suppresses Seedlings
After planting the strawberry crowns, I mulched over the soil surface with straw. I use straw instead of hay because it contains fewer weed seeds. Two to three inches of straw mulch will prevent weed seeds from germinating, and will keep the fruits clean by keeping soil particles from splashing onto the plants.

If you're filling your prepared garden bed with ornamentals rather than edibles, you can use practically any organic material for mulch. The trick is to layer it thick enough to keep light from reaching the soil surface. This simple act will stop weed seeds from germinating, thus eliminating a whole generation of weeds. More importantly, controlling weeds now will greatly reduce the number of weeds you'll have to deal with next spring. Now that's something to look forward to!

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