Horticulture News: Get "em before they start

By Kim Cowherd Published:


Home gardeners look forward to that first ripe tomato or ear of corn picked from their own carefully tended gardens.  But after some vigorous hoeing or hand-pulling on a hot, humid, sunny day, some people may be asking themselves if it is all worth it!  

Weeds in the home vegetable garden are more than just an eyesore. Weeds compete with crop plants for water, nutrients and sunlight.  Some weeds, like quackgrass, can chemically inhibit vegetable plant growth.  Others host insect pests and pathogens.  All of these result in fewer fresh vegetables for your table.  

It is recommended that homeowners consider options other than chemical control for weed problems. There are options for weed control that with a little thought and planning ahead can help your garden remain weed free.  

There are steps you can take to help stop weeds before they even start.

νPrevent garden weeds that do come up, from going to seed during the season.

νKeep border areas around the garden free of weeds.

νClean equipment to prevent weed seeds or plant parts from being transported into clean areas.

νAvoid using soil infested with weeds or weed seeds.

νAvoid using manure unless it has been sterilized or well composted. 

Most importantly, do everything possible to keep garden weeds from going to seed.  One red root pigweed plant can produce 100,000 seeds that can continue to germinate over the next 15 to 20 years. 

Methods of control

Frequent hoeing or rototilling on a weekly basis helps eliminate weeds when they are small and easily removed.  

There is no better way of controlling garden weeds than having vigorous, desirable plants crowding them out. Purchase high-quality, clean, healthy vegetable plants that are free of weeds. Also choose to buy high quality vegetable seeds, which are more likely to be free of weed seeds in the mix. 

By planting rows a little closer, vegetable crops provide more shade that also helps to reduce weed pressure.  After harvesting a crop, plant another in its place to continue using the space.

Mulching works very well in the home garden.

Use organic material such as grass clippings, leaves or straw to eliminate weed growth and build up organic matter to make the soil more fertile and friable.

Do not use grass clippings from a lawn that was treated recently with the herbicide 2, 4-D.  Treated clippings can cause twisting of the vegetable plants and can even kill some sensitive vegetable crops.

Be careful about the kind of organic material you use.  Hay can introduce a considerable load of weed seeds into your garden.  Do not mulch with hay containing grass or weed seeds.

Black plastic mulch is of specific benefit to certain vegetables including tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and vine crops.  In addition to shading out and eliminating weeds, plastic mulches conserve moisture and promote early crop growth by helping to heat up the soil in spring.

Landscape fabric has the added advantage of being water permeable and can be used for multiple years; although it is more expensive than black plastic.  

Hand weeding and mulching are more preferable than herbicide use in the home garden, because herbicides which can be safely used with some crops may severely damage other, more sensitive ones. These chemicals also may remain in the soil and damage future plantings.

Avoid herbicides

Herbicides, however, provide effective weed control where substantial areas of single or related crops are grown. Even so, their use should be complemented with hand weeding and/or mulching.

If you do choose to use herbicides, do so with caution. Follow the manufacturer’s directions to the letter when measuring, mixing, or applying them. Read the label carefully for the names of plants that product can be safely used. Heed all other warnings and note precautions. Be sure no pets or children are in the area.  

For more information on vegetable garden weed control, log on to http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id128/id128.pdf . Or contact the Franklin County Extension Office at 695-9035 or email DL_CES_FRANKLIN@EMAIL.UKY.EDU and ask for the publication, “Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky.”


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