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Weed control tops checklist of spring garden chores

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By Jeneen Wiche

There are various odd jobs to address in the garden once spring arrives.  Well timed chores can help us improve the performance of some plants, control others and eliminate some.  Weeds are usually foremost on people’s minds as they make their way back to the garden each spring.  There is no magic bullet for weed control but we can take some common sense measures to devise an overall management plan.  Diligence plays a role, as does timing and technique. 

Weed control begins in earnest by late March.  As soil and air temperatures warm, weed seed begins to germinate.  You have probably noticed some of the cool season culprits like henbit, chickweed and wild onion.  Perennial performers like violets are waiting in the wings with dandelions not too far behind.

Annual weeds spread by seed so if we address the young seedlings now with a hoe or scratching tool in hand we have eliminated one generation.  If the weed is a perennial like violets or wild onion then a bit more effort may be required.  Every spring when the ground is moist I take my spade to the garden and pop out onions and violets from the mixed perennial beds.  Every year there are less to deal with.  

We purchased a flame weeder a couple of years ago:  last year we started a bit late, this year we are right on time.  We did a pass through the asparagus bed in mid-March boiling the tender weed seedlings before the asparagus spears started to poke through the surface.  The flame weeder works best on annual weeds but an early pass in March will also hit first year perennial weeds and biennials effectively, too.  It will also render some seeds useless as they lay on the surface of the soil.

You can use a total kill herbicide with glyphosate now, but always wait until you are sure that weeds are actively growing so the product works efficiently.  There are organic herbicides that prove rather effective, too.  Organic Gardening magazine recently rated the effectiveness of Perfectly Natural Weed’n Grass Killer.  The active weed killing ingredients are clove and citrus oils so look for similar products accordingly.  A full strength vinegar spray will wither a weed, too, but you need to come back to it several times to starve the roots (and you need a stronger vinegar solution than what you get at the grocery store).  And, still in many cases a spade is adequate for the handful of deep rooted dandelions in the perennial garden, no need to go overboard with the chemicals.  Dandelion leaves are a tasty addition to a salad so you may consider harvesting the foliage before you toss the root.

Preemergents are another effective way of controlling weeds throughout the season.  Preemergents disrupt germination so using them in problem areas is a good management strategy.  Corn gluten is a great organic option beyond the conventional chemical options.  Preemergents are most effective if they are reapplied in intervals throughout the season so check the label for application rates.  After flaming the asparagus bed we sprinkled generous amounts of corn gluten…hopefully one step closer to a slightly less weedy asparagus patch! 

Once weed control measures have been taken, get down a layer of mulch if needed, maintain about 2 inches at all times as a part of your overall weed control program.  We have had problematic areas in the past that are now clean of weeds because of several years of diligence…but it begins now and it requires a little effort on your part.