As we move into summer, your yard and garden may be
overwhelmed by wily weeds that appear in the lawn, flower
and vegetable beds, walkways and driveways, or may even
overtake shrubs and trees! With summer heat or rainstorms,
it is tempting to ignore the mess and give up, but now is the
time to move into high gear to minimize both short-term
and long-term weed problems.
The first step in weed control is identification! One
gardener’s weed is another gardener’s treasure. Think
twice before you yank out an unfamiliar plant. Obviously, a
tall, flowering plant in your lawn is an intruder, but take care
that you don’t remove seedlings of desirable plants that are not yet in flower. Your soil is a seedbank for many plants, native and exotic, and you may find that “volunteers” are welcome additions to your landscape.
Unfortunately, previously recommended plants that have escaped cultivation or that are still readily available for sale or may be turn out to be your worst weeds! Aggressive growth may seem desirable when you are trying to quickly fill up a barren backyard, but you may find such plants spread beyond their allotted space. Groundcovers, such as English ivy and vinca are prime examples. Trees to banish include Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) and Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa). Burning bush (Euonymous alatus) and multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) are problem shrubs. Ornamental grasses, such as Chinese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis), are very difficult to eradicate. As for vines, Kudzu (Pueraria montana) has a foothold in many Black Mountain home sites, but more likely threats come from Asian bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis).
If your property came with these invaders, removing them may be a long-term process. Better to avoid planting such aggressive plants and pull young seedlings or suckers as soon as you see them. Pulling weeds can be a satisfying task after a rain when you are likely to successfully remove the plant and most of its root system. For woody plants that are difficult to dig out, you may find repeatedly cutting back new growth will eventually exhaust the root system.
Avoid relying on herbicides as your first line of defense against weeds. In many situations, it is almost impossible to isolate undesirable from desirable plants. Where edible plants are growing nearby, toxicity may be an issue. Herbicide drift is another serious problem; many a neighbor finds herbicide sprayed next door is the reason a prize plant is suffering or dead. Even if you successfully target only the plants you intend to kill, you’ll still have those dead plants to gather up and throw away. Better to remove weeds as small plants that haven’t flowered or set seed! Never use “home remedies” to kill weeds. Most are ineffective—many represent unauthorized use of substances in the landscape that can do more harm than good!
If you have a lawn, weed prevention starts with choosing certified seed, which will have very few weed seeds. Properly liming and fertilizing your lawn, based on a soil test, will ensure that your grass will have a fighting chance in out-competing weeds. Similarly, mowing frequently enough that you never remove more than one-third of the grass height, and mowing no shorter than 2 ½-to-3 inches tall will help keep weeds at bay.
Mulching your other plantings is an effective way to keep weeds down and ease their removal. Pine bark mulches are good additions to your soil and are unlikely to come with weed problems. In areas where mulch is impractical or undesirable, frequent shallow cultivation may do the trick. Just avoid too much soil disturbance in areas where you have a ready source of weed seeds lurking below the surface. Weed-whacking may be your best bet if you can do it before plants set seed—you can even leave the “whackings” to serve as mulch to keep more weeds from sprouting.
Consider taking responsibility for curbsides and common areas where weeds sprout. Not only will you prevent unwanted seeds from entering your property, but you’ll be doing your part to keep Black Mountain beautiful.
Bio: Debbie Green has been a member of the Beautification Committee for over 10 years and maintains one of the Committee’s sites in town. She enjoys gardening with native plants, as well as growing flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Debbie is also a regular contributor to the Buncombe County Extension Master Gardener blog at http://www.buncombemastergardener.org.