Gardening Basics

Weed Wars

Tips for beating the enemy in the garden — or at least staying ahead.

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by Marie Hofer, Gardening editor, HGTV.com

There comes a certain time in the garden when weeds rule — or seem to. Of all the tasks in the garden, they require the most time, energy and attention, stealing the moments when you'd rather be enjoying flowers, butterflies and the lush growth of plants that you'd intended to be there.

If you're lucky, you've got relatively easy ones like wild violet in a landscape bed, which you can usually pull easily, roots and all. One easy tug on a vigorous wild violet empties a nine-inch circle of gardening space. If you're not so lucky, you have wild violet in the lawn, which is a different story altogether. Or worse, you're confronted with a wide expanse of something like bermuda grass, which spreads rapidly via its stolons and rhizomes, every piece of which has to be dug out and removed lest it begin a whole new rampaging plant.

If weeds have already taken charge, you've got plenty of work ahead, depending on the type of weed. During the offseason, you can seize the opportunity to get ahead of the game by finding ways to suppress them while they're dormant or before they even germinate.

  • Mulch, mulch, mulch. Weeds are plants, after all, that need light to grow. Deprive them of that light. As you know, however, mulch is not a panacea. Vigorous weeds will grow up through pine-bark mulch and similar mulches and also creep in from the sides. The best strategy is to lay 8 to 10 sheets of newspaper down first (or use a landscape fabric), and then put the loose mulch on top. To prevent the weeds and grasses from creeping in from the sides, take the time and trouble to install edging.

  • When you're installing new landscape beds, space plants close enough together so that at maturity they'll crowd out (and shade) weeds without crowding each other.

  • Try to keep the weeds from going to seed by removing or mowing them before they form seedheads.

  • Keep after them with continuous rooting out — most persistent weeds can eventually be squelched if you keep robbing them of their energy stores.

  • Before you take action, find out whether the weeds you're coping with also provide essential food or cover for honeybees, birds and other desirable wildlife. The answer might help guide your response.

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