What’s a Weed?
Published in the Toronto Star – April 29, 2017
The month of May is just around the corner. Planting month. And the beginning of weeding season. Gardeners take the good with the bad. We take a vow when we first get our knees dirty, ‘for better and for worse’. Off we go digging, planting and weeding.
I love weeding, for the first couple of weeks of spring. But their persistence gets to me after a while and I begin looking for short cuts. How can I control weeds with as little commitment to time and effort as possible?
Fortunately my years of gardening experience (and hanging out with lazy gardeners) has taught me a few things about this. Here are my top 5 weeding tips:
- Be an early bird. The early bird does indeed get the weed. Knock a weed down while it is a baby and you have removed future work 10 fold. How is that? The root of a weed gives the top half of the weed life, vigor and speed. Cut a weed off with a sharpened hoe and you remove the ability of the plant to photosynthesize. This either starves the poor darling to death or, at the very least; it pushes the ability of the weed to re-grow backwards for a spell. The secret: sharpen your hoe with a garden (bastard) file each time that you use it. Spray it with a little oil to help it move effortlessly through the soil. And do it early in the season before the root gets too deep. Like now.
- The miracle of bark mulch is that it is non-chemical, easy, fun to spread (it smells nice!) and it can eliminate up to 90% of weeds before them become established. The secret is to use at least 4 to 5 centimetres of finely ground up cedar or pine bark mulch to prevent most annual weeds from popping through the soil in the first place. The sooner you do this, the better. Do not use ‘landscape fabric’ under your mulch as it will annoy you in future when you do have to pull a few weeds and the roots have grown into it (this stuff is great used under interlocking stones).
- Black Plastic. Place thick (at least 6 mil) black plastic over your lawn or garden and anchor it with something heavy. Wait for a minimum of 6 weeks (but usually more like 8 to 10 weeks) you will kill just about everything under the plastic membrane. Other than some stubborn hard-to-kill weeds like horse tail (which is over 100 million years old and knows how to deal with adversity) or Phragmites (the new imported curse) you are good to go once you have cooked the weeds beneath the plastic. While the process takes time it is thorough and no chemicals are involved. This process works best in bright sun.
- Lawn Weeds. The most frequently asked question I have heard since 2,4D was removed from retailers shelves is, ‘how do I kill lawn weeds’. And the answer is simple: compete them out of existence. Here is my 4 step recipe for a thicker, greener and (for the most part) weed-free lawn.
- Rake the area of thin or tired grass gently using a leaf rake, removing all loose debris and getting grass blades to stand up on end.
- Spread lawn soil (or triple mix) about 3 to 5 cm thick and rake this smooth.
- Hand-broadcast quality grass seed on the area.
- Rake this smooth, step on it to bring the seed in firm contact with the soil and water until germination occurs. Keep it damp during hot, dry spells and fertilize with quality, iron based lawn fertilizer containing slow release nitrogen.
- You asked, “How do I KILL weeds”. That is a matter that has been difficult to manage for several years. However, this spring Wilson are introducing a new, biologically based broad leafed lawn weed killer under the brand of WeedOut. It is based on a naturally occurring hormone found in peas and broad beans. According to the background information, it works with one application and kills the root of the weed, when you use it according to label directions.
This product has been many years in development. If the results occur ‘as advertised’ it will be a game changer.
Weed control does not have to be onerous. In fact, I am not the only person who finds some recreation in the activity of hoeing weeds down in the garden and pulling them from the lawn. Much of the joy is in using the right tool. For weed extracting there are many clever derivations out there. I prefer the ‘Speedy Weeder’.
The new Back Hoe is available with a smaller head, reduced by 30%, and a short handled version for tight spaces and for raised beds. Full discloser: the aforementioned products have my name on them. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are extraordinary tools.