Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Rocky Mountains
June, 2004
Regional Report

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Wild morning glory, or bindweed, can be one of the toughest perennial weeds to eradicate.

Weeds, Weeds, and More Weedssss

Most of us view weeds as the nemesis of the yard and garden, invading our perfect lawn. So we try in vain to seek out the easiest or so-called miracle ways to eradicate them from the landscape with a slew of chemicals. Applying herbicides is certainly one option for getting rid of weeds, but most herbicides can also harm the very landscape plants we want to keep.

An Ounce of Prevention
A better way to keep weeds at bay is to prevent them in the first place. For example, a thick, vigorously growing lawn can suppress the invasion of weeds. Core aerating in the spring, using slow-acting lawn fertilizer, and proper mowing and watering are all management practices that will keep weeds from getting a foothold in your lawn.

If a weed does pop up here and there, then getting out after a rain or lawn irrigation to dig or pull it is much more practical than having to treat the entire lawn with a weed killer. Remember, if you have trees and shrubs growing in or around the lawn, they are just big broadleaf weeds that can ultimately be harmed by the continual application of weed-and-feed products. Over the years, I've diagnosed hundreds of samples of trees that were damaged by the application of weed fertilizers that contained herbicides.

Most weeds are opportunistic and tolerate a wider range of growing conditions than grasses and flowers do. When you stress your lawn by mowing it too short, you can expect that the crabgrass lurking in the background will seize the opportunity to invade. Compacting the lawn with heavy equipment or frequent foot traffic encourages knotweed, common plantain, prostrate spurge, and goose grass. These weeds can grow successfully on compacted soils.

Perhaps the most difficult weeds to contend with are the perennial types that get a stronghold when the lawn or garden is experiencing a prolonged drought. My nemesis is field bindweed that invades just about any area of the landscape. It has ganglia of roots that can grow several feet deep. Just try pulling it out! Also known as wild morning glory, bindweed is persistent and will cover the ground quickly, choking out flowers and suffocating patches of the lawn. Since it is a broadleaf weed, you can starve the plant by spot spraying it with biodegradable, soap-based herbicides or a mixture of vinegar and water. These are much safer for the environment, but they will have to be used on a regular basis as new plants re-emerge.

Old Family Remedy
One of my favorite weed busters is a mixture my Italian grandmother used many years ago. She would mix up 3 parts undiluted vinegar (10 percent acidity) to 1 part dishwashing soap. If a weed popped up in the garden, she would give it a spritz of this homemade formula, and the weed would quickly wilt and die. You may need to repeat this treatment on the tougher perennial weeds, but as long as you keep starving the plant of its food manufacturing leaves, it will eventually die.

Targeting the Spray
Here's a tip when spot-spraying weeds in the vegetable or flower garden: Cut the bottom out of a plastic milk jug, and use the jug as a shield to keep the spray off desirable plants. Place the cut end of the jug over the offending weed and spray the vinegar mixture through the top opening of the bottle directly down on the weed's foliage.

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