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Keeping weeds at bay!

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Did you know, weeding takes more time than any other cultural practice in vegetable and flower gardening? If you are a procrastinating gardener, then you know all too well about weeding. I don’t know about you, but pulling weeds is not the best use of my valuable time. Trying to keep ahead of weeds can be a bit like herding cats.

Mulching is a simple and safe way to keep weeds at bay. Mulch is an inorganic or natural covering. Examples of natural mulches including straw, pine needles or bark, cocoa hulls, and shredded wood. Inorganic examples include plastics, fabrics, and recycled rubber. By covering the soil with mulch, seeds that are close to or on the surface will not receive enough light for germination, thus reducing weed growth. If mulch is thick enough, it can also smother germinating weed seeds and small weed seedlings. It is necessary to remove larger weeds and well-established or perennial grasses before placing your mulch barrier down. If not removed, these weeds and grasses will grow up through the barrier.

Natural mulches will decompose, adding valuable nutrients to the soil. Working the natural mulch in to the bed in the fall will increase the rate of decomposition. Over time, this process will increase the organic level of the soil, in turn improving fertility, water retention and drainage, and increasing earthworm populations.

Inorganic mulch takes a long very time to decompose. This also makes it hard for the soil to receive nutrients from decomposing plants, there is less earthworm activity, and depending on your mulch choice, your soil can heat up too much hindering the quality and production of the plants.

Rock, a common mulch alternative, is not the best mulch choice for a vegetable garden. It tends to heat up during the day and holds in the heat well into the night, creating stress on the plants.

Herbicides are another option used for killing weeds, but not recommended in a vegetable garden. If you feel the need to use herbicides, be sure to read and follow the label directions – use only how and what they are intended for. Also, when using any herbicides be sure to wear protective clothing; if any product gets on your skin, wash the affected area with soap and water immediately.

Pre-emergent herbicides often contain Trifluralin. This is a germination inhibitor and usually comes in granular form. To use, sprinkle the granules onto the soil, work into the first inch or two of the soil, then water in within 24 hours of application.

Another herbicide type is glyphosate-based. This is the most widely used herbicide in the United States. It usually comes in ready-to-use form. Spray directly onto the emerged weed; do this on a day with no wind or rain, as it must have time to penetrate into the plant.

Ultimately, the best prevention is not letting your weeds go into seed – most weeds have over 20,000 seeds! One year of letting your weeds go to seed equals five years of weeding.

If you have more questions about the benefits of mulch or herbicide usage, please contact Kitty at 701-857-6444 or by email at kathryn.torkelson@ndsu.edu.

Happy Gardening!

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