Wage war on weeds

I used to consider weeds ugly. Now in a dry climate, I consider them bad. There’s only so much water, and garden plants lose out in a contest with weeds. Survival has supplanted aesthetics as my impetus to weed.

Contemplate a dandelion that produces 15,000 seeds, or purslane whose seeds persist in soil for 20 years. Marvel at tumbleweed, a fire threat in drought areas, whose seeds germinate in 36 minutes. Ponder quack grass that travels 50 feet pushing up blades en route. Ruminate on purple loosestrife’s march beyond diarrhea-treatment herb from Europe, to distribution as an ornamental, to colonization in wetlands in all contiguous states except Florida.

Ralph Waldo Emerson opined, “A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” If, like him, I was blessed with Massachusetts’ rain and snow, I might pause on their good. Some stabilize slopes and add organic matter to soil; others offer habitat to wildlife; a few have medicinal and edible value.

Yet, having discovered just how detrimental weeds are in gardens with limited water, I say rout them out. They are alpha dogs of the plant pack and can quickly dominate to siphon scarce resources from desirous plants. Their roots are tougher, deeper, and more entrenched; their appetites voracious and unrelenting; their reproduction resourceful and rampant.

Weed control is not a new or sexy practice, which may be why so many guides give it scant if any coverage. Yet it ranks in the top waterwise practices. Outcompete all those resource robbers with these 5 must-dos:

  1. Weed right.
    • Catch weeds early before they get too rooted or go to seed.
    • Pull them out when the ground is moist like after a rain. Get the roots or they will soon grow back.
    • Dispose of the carcass. Left on the ground, it can still disburse seed.
  2. Withhold water.
    • Use drip at plants, not spray that indiscriminately nourishes weeds.
    • Water deprivation reduces weed-seed germination by 50 to 70%.
  3. Deny sunlight.
    • Mulch to stop light from germinating buried weed seeds and to encourage seed-eating insects.
    • Don’t disturb unplanted soil where dormant weed seeds lie in wait for an opening.
  4. Avoid bare spots.
    • Mulch.
    • Keep plants healthy to avoid weed invasion of stressed areas.
  5. Weed regularly.
    • Daily or weekly as needed. Commune with your plants as you go.
    • Stay on top of it. Do not allow them to go to seed – chop off their heads if you can’t pull them out.

So grab that dandelion weeder, hand cultivator, hoe, or other garden tool and leave the roundup or herbicide behind.