Garden Weeds

Garden weeds are merely plants growing in the wrong place. But they are plants nonetheless and they find your garden irresistibly attractive.

It's a war. There's no question about it. You spend hours watering, edging, trimming and feeding your plants only to find that overnight unsightly weeds have sprouted to disrupt your once picture perfect garden. Quickly you seize the invader by the head and pluck it from its stronghold in the rose bushes only to find another like him hiding in the Nasturtiums. On your hands and knees you spend hours trying to successfully evict weeds claiming squatter's rights in your garden, but every weekend another handful appear to destroy the harmony of your carpet-like lawn, or break the clean lines of your red-brick patio.

Unfortunately, weeds have the advantage over the gardener in this never-ending battle. Weeds are merely plants growing in the wrong place. But they are plants nonetheless and they find your garden, with its rich soil and lots of sunshine, irresistibly attractive. All they must do is last long enough to reach maturity when the slightest breeze will throw their seeds far and wide in search of other gardens to invade. The hundreds of seeds floating on the air is hardly a match for the single gardener, and hand-to-hand combat may not be enough. To prevent a full-scale victory by weeds, the gardener needs not only a strong defense, but perhaps a few chemical weapons as well.

To effectively combat weeds, you need to know exactly how weeds have become so successful at propagation. Weed seeds are stealthy creatures hiding themselves in organic material and lawn equipment that will eventually transport them to their ideal breeding grounds. They are also quite patient. Weed seeds can lie dormant for some time waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. When they do finally grow, they are either perennials or annuals. Perennial weeds, if permitted, will live two years or more, spilling hundreds of seeds during their life span. Annuals live and die within one year, but the number of seeds released in that short span will ensure an army of new recruits for your garden or lawn.



Realizing the weeds' effective infiltration system, defense on the home front is almost futile. You couldn't ensure weed seeds are not hiding in your lawnmower any more than you could command the wind to blow all those seeds into your neighbor's yard, and out of your own. The only truly effective defense for a gardener is pre-planting elimination. Before planting the lawn or restocking the flowerbed, keep the soil bare and moist for three to four months. Spray the area with herbicide every three weeks until weeds germinate. This method not only kills the seeds in the soil, but also the weeds whose seeds managed to escape the spraying. Fumigation is another option, particularly for those about to plant a new lawn. Fumigation involves the use of gasses over a three-week period to treat weeds. Fumigation is expensive and best performed by professionals who know how to work with the highly toxic gas methyl bromide.

If evacuating your plants to allow their bed to lie dormant for three or four months is not part of your gardening logistics plan, then the battle must be fought after weeds have already rooted. Aside from laborious plucking, the only post-emergence weed control method involves herbicides. Herbicides are categorized as systemic or contact chemicals. Systemic herbicides kills every part of the weed from the roots to the tips of the leaves. Contact chemicals kill only the above ground leaves and stems. For particularly stubborn weeds, contact chemicals are ineffective, as they do not affect the weeds' often vigorous roots systems. Weeds in gardens are best treated with commercial squirt sprayers that direct the chemical directly to the root. Again, weeds are nothing but misplaced plants, so hastily applied herbicides will not discriminate with the prize-winning Impatients.

Weeds are as varied as plant species in general, but some appear to cause more consternation among gardeners than others. The number one weed for lawns in particular must be the omnipresent Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). These broadleaf weeds with yellow pompom flowers are quick to establish. They produce a wispy, white seed sack on the end of a single stem. Aided by puckered lips of children everywhere, the seeds float out to find new homes. The root system of these weeds is quite hardy. The entire taproot must be dug out (usually with a spade and lots of muscle) to eliminate it. 2 4-D is a chemical that successfully kills Dandelions. A manufactured growth hormone, the chemical enters the plants and literally forces it to grow itself to certain death. Although devastating to Dandelions, 2 4-D is less harsh on lawns and surrounding plants.

Thistle (Cirsium species) resembles Dandelion and creates as just as much angst among gardeners. The spiked edged leaves cradle stems topped with round flowers. Thistle spreads by underground roots and seed pods, and is successfully treated with 2 4-D. Two applications might be necessary for the hardy survivor.

For lawns, Crabgrass (Digitaria species) is a particular nuisance. Crabgrass is particularly difficult to spot in its early stages, as it closely resembles the lawn. But as it grows, its clumped patches quickly overtake the true lawn grass. If possible, spray future lawn beds with products containing benefin, bensulide, DCPA, or siduron. If post-emergence treatment is necessary, choose CAMA, MSMA, or MAMA. These are all contact chemicals proven to be effective on grassy weeds.

As a gardener, you put too much time and care into your plants to have them invaded and eventually smothered by weeds. As pretty as that yellow Dandelion may be, you have no plans for it among your elegant lilies or in your carpet of Kentucky Bluegrass. Although plucking remains the top method for weed control, it is not the only weapon in the gardener's arsenal. Effective chemicals, particularly in the form of herbicides, can help give gardeners the edge when battling the interminable weed war.

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