Weed control without herbicide

By Charlotte Wachtel

Weeds are an inevitable part of every garden. Although many weeds are not serious pests, three basic types can cause problems:

1. Annuals, such as pigweed and lambsquarters, with millions of tiny seeds,
2. Those with spreading underground roots, such as bindweed or wild morning glory,
3. Those with wind borne seeds such as thistle and milkweed.

Although some weeds stay short and do not shade out your garden vegetables, all weeds compete for water and soil nutrients, and should be controlled. After planting your seeds and seedlings, be prepared to cultivate or till the soil to kill emerging weeds. Cultivate at lest twice when the seedlings are tiny to allow your vegetables to gain size and vigor. After cultivating, mulch can be applied to slow weed growth.

Although mulch rarely stops every weed, it does hinder their growth substantially, keeps the soil moist, an provides a great environment for earthworms near the surface of the soil. Many types of materials can be used as mulch, these include:

  • Wheat straw and hardwood leaves are very good.
  • Hay should be used with caution to avoid introducing more weed seeds.
  • Sawdust can be contaminated with glue depending on its source, and it can rob the soil of nitrogen during its breakdown. Sawdust also has a low pH, and may adversely affect the growth of your vegetables.
  • Plastic newspapers and cardboard present clean up problems and may leach chemicals into the soil.
  • Good quality wheat straw is usually the best choice because it has no negative side effects on the plants or on the soil, is weed free, and is readily available from farmers or garden supply stores. Unfortunately, it can be costly.

Those weeds that do survive despite your best efforts will need to be pulled out before they set seed. having a thick layer of mulch will make pulling much easier. Weed scan be thrown into the compost heap. They will break down much more quickly if you shred them. Weeds also serve as feed for chickens and pigs. By feeding weeds to animals or recycling them into compost, a waste becomes a free, healthy feed for animals and plants.

Finally, many garden weeds are also edible wild plants. Check with your library or bookstore for a field guide to edible wild plants if you are interested in pursuing information about these garden extras.


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