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Garden Weeds…The Great Misunderstanding
It felt like I was surrounded by sand and mirages as I looked down my nose, past the bead of sweat reaching its tip.
My head and thick red-hair were stuffed into a straw hat, protecting me from the sun but making me hot, itchy, and somewhat delusional.
I glared at the dandelion at my feet. The one of many that had protruded between my beans, corn, peas…anywhere they felt comfortable. Which must have been everywhere. I was surrounded. And this must be the year of all years for Canadian Thistle, I thought. Where do they all come from? One day out of the garden meant a takeover of weeds.
It didn’t seem fair. Some of these plants I had started in March, and after several months of tender care, they had taken over our front porch before they were officially planted in their final destination. But these weeds! They were determined that nothing else belonged in my garden but them.
If this is the case for you as well, there is hope: Weed Control When Your Garden is Full of Weeds
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Why Are There Weeds in My Garden?
Why were these weeds taking over? There must be an answer! There is no way, with the size of my garden, that I could possibly keep it weed-free with just my two hands and no foreseeable help from…somewhere.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man of great words, described a weed as a plant whose virtue has not yet been discovered. And it’s true, weeds are climbing the plant hierarchy.
Many weeds are edible and in fact, quite healthy for us! And they do serve a purpose.
I know, I know! That’s hard to believe when they’ve quickly taken control of the world. Well, at least your garden world.
As the years march on, I’ve gleaned more knowledge about gardening, and in my quest to win over the weeds in my garden, I’ve implemented the no-till method of gardening. It has been my first step in winning this weed war.
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But Are Weeds in My Garden Bad…?
There are a few more things to consider before spitefully hating those pesky weeds:
- Weeds have, in fact, saved us: they quickly establish in, protect, and restore soil that has been left exposed by natural and human-caused disturbances. And because they quickly do this vital job, they have saved our topsoil and kept us from starvation.
- Weeds are considered “native plants”. When the soil has been laid bare, for whatever reason, these native plants are the first to step in, restoring the land to the proper native vegetation.
- The roots of weeds are also beneficial to the soil. For instance: if you have a dandelion problem, then you have a compaction problem and the roots of these weeds will actually benefit your soil by breaking it up and adding organic matter.
- Weeds are a clue to the health of your soil. If your garden is overflowing with weeds, you now can view them as trying to help restore your soil. But you can do other things to speed up the process of restoration and thereby eliminate the weed problem you are experiencing. (See below)
How Do I Get Rid of the Weeds In My Garden?
But first, let’s talk about how you should handle weeds in your garden. You will probably get them from time to time and how you handle them is just as important as eliminating them.
- First, understand why you are having a weed problem. When the soil is opened up by continual tilling, it elicits a natural response of nature: bring in the weeds to heal the soil. Bare soil is hungry and at risk.
- When you do find a weed, cut it off just below ground level (preferably before it goes to seed!). Remember, the root will add organic matter and help break up the soil.
- The leaves can be used as mulch, which is one way to add organic material to your soil.
If you garden, it’s probably inevitable that you will have a few weeds, but if your last gardening year felt a little overrun, you can do a few things that will make you and your garden feel like a million bucks.
How to Reduce And Control Weeds in Your Garden:
- Start by implementing the no-till method immediately
- Utilize mulching <– Read about the best tips and techniques
- Restore biodiversity by implementing companion planting.
- And I found this utterly fascinating: One interesting and useful fact of weed ecology is the importance of light color or light quality for many small weed seeds. Whereas direct sunlight (or even direct moonlight!) stimulates germination, the green light under a dense plant canopy—a signal that the soil is already occupied by other vegetation—can often inhibit germination and induce dormancy (Egley, 1986). A closed crop canopy can thus shut off weed seed germination as well as retard the growth of those weeds that do emerge. (Source)
What does this mean? Use the square inch gardening method and have all areas of your garden covered with the mulch of your choice and vegetation using an awesome gardening tool: cover crops. (Download a free sheet of cover crop examples in the previous link.)
If you would like to watch an inspiring 15 minutes and see the potential of a square foot garden, click on the next link and be inspired: Homegrown Revolution
- And when you do find a weed…eat it! Only if it’s edible of course! But you’d be surprised at how many are edible!
Common Garden Weeds
BUCKHORN and BROADLEAF PLANTAIN
Plantain loves to inhabit disturbed areas of agricultural land where their seeds can easily spread. They also love compacted areas and places where most weeds don’t thrive.
Chickweed is a shallow-rooted weed that is easy to pull but should be removed before they go to seed to prevent their spread.
The chickweed leaves are oval, pointed, and hairy. It has a small, starflower, and grows in an almost viney, intertwined way.
You can read more about Chickweed here
It is best to attack crabgrass in the spring when it is at its weakest and hasn’t even thought about going to seed. This is an annual grass, that loves hot and dry conditions. It will also take root at the lower joints and can be a nemesis of the lawn and garden area.
(You can find great photos and more information about common garden weeds here.)
The dandelion is probably by far the most well know weed. Its yellow flower and floating seed head, make it a hated weed of the garden. But it is making a come back as an edible option because of its high contents of vitamins and minerals.
But if you aren’t keen on eating them or you have too many to choose from, you can remove them using one of two methods. You can grasp the weed by its base just above the roots and wiggle and pull very carefully to remove the entire root. If any root is left in the ground (which is very likely), it will probably regrow. Or you can cut off the top just below ground level, allowing the root to add organic matter to your garden and cover it will mulch to discourage its regrowth.
FIELD BINDWEED (WILD MORNING GLORY)
You will want to dig out the Field Bindweed as soon as possible in the spring before it flowers. It has very deep, horizontal roots and can quickly become a large problem if allowed to spread, so don’t let its beautiful flowers distract you.
Lamb’s Quarter is very fast-growing and spreads easily and rapidly by seed. It is best to hoe it or pull it as soon as it emerges. It sucks up a lot of moisture from the surrounding areas which affects the vegetables and flowers in the area.
Pigweed proliferates by spreading its many seeds. It is best to pull it before it flowers and goes to seed. When you do pull it, it will have a red taproot.
Purslane grows by the spread of little black seeds and also regrows by stem fragments. This weed can be hard to fully get rid of and can remain in your soil for years. As soon as it is found, remove it and destroy it to help prevent the possibility of regrowth.
Oh, the quack-grass. This grass is known for “Its long, jointed, straw-colored rhizomes that form a heavy mat in the soil, from which new shoots may also appear.” (~Source)
Remove all and any signs of the roots as soon as they appear. It is a persistent weed and spread by roots and seeds.
(Read more about weeds that actually have medicinal value Quack Grass Info here.)
Pull out Shepherd’s Purse weed before it goes to seed. The seeds live in the soil for a very long time.
The end of weeds in your garden…
The summer months can be a busy time for anyone: taking care of all the animals, chasing kids, and doing all the summer projects can pretty much take over 105% of every day. So, getting your garden to a point where it isn’t taking over the other 50% of the day 😉 in maintenance will make all the difference.
And truly, your garden will thrive when you start understanding why you have weeds and how to eliminate them naturally while working with nature. Your garden will produce more food, with less time and effort. And now when you ask the question, “Why does my garden have weeds?”, you know the answer and you can fix it!
And you will be staring down your nose, past that bead of sweat because you are actually playing outside, enjoying the delicious heat instead of battling weeds.
Jamie @ Medium Sized Family
Thursday 16th of March 2017
This is great info! I never considered how weeds take care of our soil. I'll look at them a little differently this year. The crop canopy is a fascinating idea. Maybe next year when I can invest some money into my garden!
Thursday 16th of March 2017
I had to REALLY work at changing my view of weeds--lol But really, how cool is the system that naturally tries to take care of our world! And the cool thing about the crop canopy, is that you can use the plants you are already planting in your garden--they become the canopy when you utilize companion planting :) Pretty neat!
Wednesday 15th of March 2017
I have weeds in real ya not my Garden. I have an elevated garden box and am growing crooked neck squash and banana peppers . I also grow tomatoes in containers. I am near the beach and the salt air is not good for growing things in the ground and I get too mauch disease and bugs. I hope this year will be different. I am not giving up. There has to be-way for me to growing vegetables.
Wednesday 15th of March 2017
I encourage you to watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xcZS7arcgk You would be amazed at what can happen when you give soil, even undesirable soil, what it needs to thrive that it will do just that :) I hope you have great success in your garden this year Ray!