The old saying “April showers bring May flowers” carries a message of hope to help us through the cool and rainy days of early spring. Before we know it, the world bursts forth with the colors of Tulips, Flowering Crabapple Trees, Dogwood Trees, Viburnums, and Azaleas. Unfortunately not all May’s flowers are desirable. Weed seeds can remain dormant for months, and even years, until the moisture from spring rains and warming weather produce the ideal conditions for the blooming of dandelions, chickweed, and a whole host of other weeds. If you have been able to get outside between rainstorms you have seen that this year we have a bumper crop of those weeds!
Unfortunately, if we do find ourselves knee deep in undesirable vegetation, the best method of eradication is by mechanical means. No, this does not mean fire up the trusty weed-whip and whack away, beating your trees and shrubs mercilessly in the process! This means that we must physically pull or dig out the deeply rooted weeds by hand. Many varieties of weeds, such as the dandelion, can completely re-establish themselves from a small portion of root left below ground, so make sure to get as much of the plant and roots out as possible. An assortment of hand tools are available that can help make this task a little less back-breaking including slicing hoes, winged weeders, hand cultivators, and hand rakes.
Any way you slice it, weeding is hard work! A better plan is to try to prevent as many of those weeds as we can from popping up in the first place. In our war against weeds, we have two great defensive weapons at our disposal; pre-emergent herbicide and mulch. Pre-emergent herbicide works as our guardian at the gate. Proper use of these products, such as Preen, is a completely safe way to create a thin herbicidal layer that inhibits or halts the germination and growth of weeds when they hit it. If pre-emergent herbicides are the gate keeper, then a layer of mulch is the gate itself. Mulch not only makes our beds look uniform and attractive, it also stabilizes root zone temperatures, helps retain moisture, and plays a vital role in the control of weeds. A good mulch layer can prevent weed seeds in the soil from receiving the light that they need to begin germinating. While weeds can and do germinate on the surface of the mulch, to continue to grow, these weeds will need to make contact with the soil. If we have a good two to three inch layer of mulch, these weeds will most likely wither and dry out before the roots can penetrate the level of the soil. A well timed pre-emergent herbicide application along with a layer of quality organic mulch can go a long way towards preventing weed growth in planting beds.
Spring activities, sports, and holiday preparations can easily steal all of our attention until we wake up one morning, take a look at the yard, and realize that we are WAY beyond the point of PRE-emergent herbicides. Have no fear! Enter the POST-emergent herbicide! The most common post-emergent herbicide is Round-Up which contains the active ingredient glyphosate. Since the patent expired in 2000, many other herbicides are now on the market containing the same active ingredient. Glyphosate is a NON-SELECTIVE herbicide. This is important to remember because it means that it will kill anything you spray it on, regardless of how could your intentions! Do not spray when it is windy and always use in accordance with the directions. When applied appropriately, Round-Up is a great product because there are no residual effects to the surrounding soil. You can kill a dandelion right next to a tomato plant with no damage to the tomato as long as you avoid spraying the leaves.
As long as you armed with the correct cultural practices, the right gardening tools, and appropriate herbicides you should have little trouble controlling the 2011 battle against weeds. Just remember, if you find yourself overwhelmed as you face down an invading armada of weeds, you can always call in a seasoned landscape maintenance company to bring on reinforcements!