2009-04-09 / News

Weed control

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

If you ask Scott at Jamestown Hardware how high his weeds are, he'll say they're o.k. now, but come summer he'll have a job to find his house and he wonders what happened to his garden. It's somewhere to the left of the driveway, but the weeds have covered it.

There are lots of ways to control weeds without using gallons of RoundUp or other weed killers. Most weed control is about understanding when weeds are going to grow. They're highly opportunistic and grow faster than any plant you can put in your garden, so don't plant too early, and hoe the garden just before planting any flower or vegetable seeds. Only hoe when the days are hot and rainless and the weeds will die really fast. If you hoe on damp, drizzly days, you're only moving weeds around.

When your garden patch is weedless, put layers of newspaper down. Do not use colored newspaper, only black and white. Colored inks contain some heavy metals, which you do not want in your garden. Now, layer mulch over the top of the newspaper to hide it. You'll need at least six pages of newspaper over each part of your garden and about 3 inches of mulch. Voila, job's done!

The newspaper will gradually rot away, but while it is rotting you can pull the few weeds that get through it. Next year add more mulch and your weed problem becomes even more controllable. If you have heavy-duty weeds that will grow through newspaper, lay down cardboard boxes and mulch over the cardboard. That will really control weeds! In this case, I'd use 4 to 6 inches of wood chips and cover that with 2 to 4 inches of mulch. After that you shouldn't have a problem for at least two years.

If you have a lot of bulbs in your garden that animals are always digging up, remove any mulch, plant the bulbs, then place a layer of chicken wire over the bulbs. Cover it with a layer of mulch and you'll never be troubled with dug up bulbs again.

What types of mulch should you use? For vegetable gardens, use an organic mulch such as Coco shells, straw, shredded corn stalks, grass clippings, and even shredded paper work well. But remember when mulch rots down, it uses nitrogen from your garden, so you'll need to add a layer of manure under the mulch to make up for the nutrient loss. Around trees, shrubs, and other parts of the garden that you are not going to dig in, put down pine bark or another mulch. If you go to Dave Ruggieri's Hopedale Trucking web site (www.hopedaletrucking. com) you'll be able to see and order up to nine types of organic mulch.

Select the mulch that complements your garden best. I prefer the darker mulches, but they can keep the areas around plants quite warm on hot days. Remember, too, that organic mulches eventually rot down. As part of this process, the mulch may turn grey or white. To keep it in good stead for the summer, rake it over occasionally to expose new dark mulch. When raking, remove any weeds that you might find.

There are other non-organic mulches that are supposed to be able to be laid down and weeds never come up through them. I have tried many of them and find that they keep weeds under control for a year or two, but as you refresh the mulch, seeds actually start to grow in the mulch so they don't often offer greater weed control than a good organic mulch.

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