2011-07-07 / Features

The Potting Shed

Staying Ahead of Weeds
By Carole McCray


Mulching works well to retard weeds. Mulching works well to retard weeds. Millions of them are in every garden and they can’t be seen beneath the garden surface. These hidden menaces are weeds. We pull, chop, spray and dig them out, but they persist. The reason they remain is that garden soil is well stocked with millions of future weeds in the form of seeds.

Nature gives weeds survival skills that make it easy for them to procreate and difficult for us to eradicate them. However, it’s possible to beat weeds at their own game, by stopping weed seeds from sprouting.

Here are six simple steps that can radically reduce time and energy wasted on weeds, resulting in nearly weed-free gardening over time.

1. Get rid of existing weeds.

New weeds come from mature weeds gone to seed. Eliminating those weeds is the first step. You can pull them, dig them, or spray and kill them. Whatever you do, be sure to get them, roots and all.


McCray McCray Of course dead weeds still need to be removed so in many cases it may be faster, cheaper and just as easy to simply dig out existing weeds by hand. The exceptions, of course, are invasive weeds such bindweed, poison ivy and knotweed, which need to be both killed and disposed of very carefully.

2. Add mulch as first line of defense.

Weed seeds beneath the soil surface are dormant. It’s only when exposed to light that those seeds sprout. Adding a two- to three-inch layer of mulch helps keep the seeds in soil in the dark.

3. Prevent new weeds from starting.

A pre-emergent weed preventer such as Preen used in combination with mulch provides a double whammy of weed control, stopping seeds from sprouting for up to three to four months, whether the seeds are already in the top layer of soil or mulch, or carried in by the wind, birds or animals during that time. Early spring is the optimum time to start a week prevention program, but Preen is effective spring, summer and fall, so any time is a good time to apply it.

Just sprinkle the granules directly on the soil surface or on top of the mulch. Follow the directions on the package for correct application. For vegetable gardens, there is a completely organic option by Preen.

4. Activate the weedcontrol barrier.

After applying the weed preventer, it must be watered to activate it. Once activated, it bonds with soil particles, creating an invisible weed-control barrier that prevents weed seeds from forming roots for up to three or four months. There is an all- organic formula by Preen that works in a similar manner and lasts only four to six weeks. Avoid using Preen near aquatic ecosystems or near rivers, streams, ponds, water gardens or pools, drains or sewers that flow into water bodies.

5. Eject any weedy volunteers.

Sometimes unseen weeds will have already sprouted before you lay down mulch and weed preventer. As you see them, pull them out. Other weed seeds continue to arrive in the garden day after day, borne on the wind or by birds and animals. A weed preventer will stop most from sprouting, and a watchful eye and periodic spot action can help you stay ahead of any weedy interlopers.

6. The campaign continues.

In mid-summer, a second application of Preen helps squelch windborne seeds from weeds that set seed in late summer of fall. Each spring begin the campaign anew. Refresh mulch as needed and reapply weed preventer, and as you start the process again, each year, you’ll find fewer and fewer weeds to deal with.

Preen weed preventers won’t build up in the soil, or leach into ground water. Within six months to a year or so the active ingredient in the weed preventer breaks down by soil microbes and is no longer active.

A weed free garden is good for your plants and it leaves you more free time to enjoy your garden.

Carole McCray lives, writes and gardens in the scenic Laurel Highlands easdt of Ligonier, Pa. She is an award-winning writer; her most recent awrd was the Garden Writers Association Award for her article on Native Seeds which appeared in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. She can be reached at mountain26@verizon.net.

Photo courtesy of The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.

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