Weed Management

A customer from Meridian, Idaho writes to us about controlling weeds and I thought I’d share her questions and my suggestions. This layered method for weed control is effective and improves your soil. Pat Lanza wrote an excellent book a few years ago titled Lasagna Gardening.

“I am have a terrible time in my garden with weeds. It is a fairly large garden and we irrigate (definitely a source of the weeds) We have to create rows for the irrigation. It is hard to mulch because of the irrigation. Do you have any ideas for me? I try to stay away from chemicals in the garden and I add lots of aged horse manure.” L.C.

Answer-We have similar problems here with weeds and trying to suppress them. My first strategy is to use drip or leaky pipe irrigation; it conserves water and you’ll only supply water to the plants you want to grow. The second part is use several layers of newspaper as mulch. If you don’t want to see the newspaper cover it with your horse manure and put a layer of manure on the soil as well. The newspaper excludes light and the manure will break down and enrich the soil. Next season you will have a relatively weed free area to plant. Don’t till, as you’ll expose weed seeds, just dig planting holes. Start this process over the winter as you have breaks in the weather and you’ll get a jump on spring weed growth. When using horse manure be sure to keep your tetanus shots up to date.
Rose Marie

“Thank you for the quick response. I have been reading about the newspaper mulch and was thinking about it. I am assuming that there is no issue with the ink from the paper. I never hear mention of it. Thanks!” L.C.

Answer-Most newspapers have moved to soy based inks. I’m cautious about using the colored comic pages but don’t think there is much risk with black and white. It is really quite a good method but I do recommend making sandwiches on your soil. Manure, then newspaper, followed by leaves or more manure. You need something on top so the papers don’t blow. Rose Marie

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2 Responses

  1. Good recommendations: all I would add is, get to know your weeds. See if your state’s University Press or Ag school publishes a weed guide. Some weeds can be pulled entire (red dock) when soil is damp: others when it is very dry (burdock). Some annual weeds (deadnettle, chickweed) furnish good cover for perennial herbs but obligingly die off when the soil is warm enough to set Basil seedlings out. Many are “indicators.” Foxtail grass shows a need for lime, purslane thrives in good tilth. The wild nightshades harbor potato beetle eggs, allowing these to be found and destroyed before potatoes are up.
    This approach allows more informed gardening than the “kill’em all” approach touted by sellers of chemicals.

  2. Yes, the local Extension office and Master Gardener desk can help identify the weeds and suggest ways to control in your area because it can differ from place to place. Your comment about the indicators is very useful. Potato farmers in Northern Maine where we lived for a time would look at the wild sorrel and apply lime if it was turning red.
    Thanks.

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