Last week, I wrote about planting a vegetable garden. One thing gardeners always have to deal with in the garden is weeds, which rob vegetables of precious water and nutrients.
They can also shade vegetables and make the garden look unsightly!
Fortunately, weeds are one of the easiest garden problems to control. The key factors in controlling them are prevention, timeliness and persistence.
The first step is to select a weed-free garden site, if possible. Try to avoid areas with heavy infestations of nutsedge, bermudagrass or johnsongrass. These are perennial weeds that can be extremely hard to control.
I know people who’ve had terrible nutsedge problems and had to skip an entire summer of growing vegetables just to work on killing the nutsedge.
To begin your garden on a site that has a lot of weeds, spray the whole area with glyphosate (Roundup) or some other nonselective weed killer first.
After all the plants have died, till the site thoroughly before planting.
This will allow the turned-under vegetation to decompose.
Tilling will also force many weed seeds to germinate. A second tilling just before planting will then eliminate these weeds.
At this stage, you might choose to use a pre-emergent herbicide that will prevent weeds from germinating.
The main two sold in the area are Treflan and Preen, both containing the active ingredient trifluralin. Follow the label directions for application rates and for the vegetables on the label.
Nothing is 100 percent effective in controlling weeds and these herbicides prevent only annual weeds, not perennial weeds.
When planting vegetable gardens, try to keep the plants in tightly spaced rows to allow the vegetables to shade and crowd out weeds, but also follow the planting density recommended on the seed packets or transplant labels.
There is a downside to the tight spacing of vegetables, and that is lack of air movement that helps prevent diseases.
If planting tightly, it is a good idea to plant three to five closely spaced rows and then a wider walk row.
Mulching can greatly reduce weeds and works well for larger vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.
Good mulches include pine straw, pine bark and wood chips. It is usually a good idea to wait until about June 1 to mulch the vegetables in order to allow the soil temperature to warm up for optimum growth.
Be sure to remove any weeds first, because many weeds can grow through a mulch layer. Make sure the mulch covers the soil surface and is well up under the plants.
Don’t use grass clippings for mulch, as they generally contain a multitude of weed seeds.
Before you plant, the ground should be well-tilled and free of large clumps. While you’re tilling, add the recommended amount of fertilizer, lime and other soil amendments.
Keep the ground adequately watered and fertilized over the course of the growing season.
Remember that most crops will outgrow weeds. So providing the best conditions for the vegetables to grow will help to reduce weed pressure and numbers.
Cultivation is and will continue to be an important method of garden weed control. Every year, millions of dollars are spent on a variety of hoes, rotary tillers, push cultivators, rolling cultivators, string trimmers, etc., all for weed control.
The most important thing to remember is to get the weeds early, particularly in the seedling stage, when they’re easy to control, haven’t developed seed, and haven’t caused much damage to your crop.
Cultivation is generally supplemented with hand weeding, especially for weeds close to the crops. Take care when cultivating or hand-weeding, particularly near the roots of the vegetable crops.
Don’t cultivate or hand weed in the garden if it is wet – just after a rain, watering or a heavy dew.
Many plant diseases will spread in water droplets, and many weeds can harbor such pests.
As you walk through the garden, you may be inadvertently spreading plant diseases.
Practice good weed control throughout the growing season, especially if the garden site will be used next year. Prevent weeds from making seeds that could cause future problems.
Simply mowing the garden after harvesting it will help prevent weeds. Tilling the garden will work even better.