Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2009
Regional Report

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Queen Anne's lace is beautiful, but not in my vegetable garden!

Weeds in Your Garden?

So, you say you have weeds. What exactly is a weed? Basically it is any plant that's not wanted or that's planted in the wrong place. Sounds simple enough.

But, one person's weed might be another person's wildflower. Right now the crystalline blue chicory is blooming along with the creamy Queen Anne's lace, one of my favorite combinations. Add the bright orange "roadside" lilies which also bloom now and you have a magnificent combination. Although as much as I love seeing these along the roadsides, I don't want them in my yard.

Weeds are often a major focus of our energy in lawns and in flower and vegetable gardens. I love the methodical meditation of weeding, but not when they get so numerous as to overwhelm the other plants or when the soil is so dry that it won't let them go.

Life Cycle
One thing that helps in weed control is understanding and working with a plant's life cycle to avoid unnecessary frustration. Weeds are classified as either grassy, like crabgrass and foxtail, or broadleaf, like creeping Charlie and dandelion. They can be annual, like purslane, or perennial, like plantain.

Annual weeds germinate, set seed, and die in one year. Some germinate in spring and are finished by fall; others germinate in fall, overwinter, and set their seeds in spring. Preventing annuals from going to seed by removing them before they set flowers is the primary method of control.

Perennials and Biennials
Perennials come back year after year and you have to dig them by the roots to kill them. Biennials such as Queen Anne's lace and garlic mustard produce a rosette of leaves the first year and then a flower stalk and seeds the second year, after which they die. The key to reducing biennial weeds is stopping seed production in the second year.

I've become very weed tolerant, although in some situations, the weeds compete with more desirable plants for sun, nutrients, and water. I do control my weeds in the vegetable garden for this reason. On the other hand, I pretty much leave the lawn weeds alone.

Chemical control need not be the first line of defense. If weeds are controlled when young, all it takes is a hoe or a hand-pull. In turf, it's more important to establish healthy, thick grass by mowing high, watering deeply about once a week, and fertilizing regularly without overdoing it. Perennial weeds can often be controlled by simply pouring vinegar or hot water in the crown.

If you do decide on a chemical control, make sure you know what you are using and that it is appropriate for the type of weed you are controlling. Spot treating is always better than widespread spraying.

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