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Controlling certain weeds takes some strategic planning and during mid-March, the game begins. I personally don’t care about weeds in the lawn but I do try to keep them out of the landscape beds and the vegetable garden. I also prefer to approach the whole affair with as little chemical input as possible, so I have developed a well-timed strategy of hand-weeding, mulching, using corn gluten as a pre-emergent and a little flame-throwing. I’ll explain.
As soil and air temperatures warm, weed seed begins to germinate. You have probably already noticed some cool season weeds like henbit, chickweed and wild onion. Perennial performers like violets, dandelions and creeping Charlie are not far behind. Annual weeds spread by seed so if we address the young seedlings now, especially before they bloom, 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. In a matter of about three years total, I have eliminated some major weed problems by pulling, cultivating, mulching and using corn gluten pre-emergents.
If you are battling tough weeds like creeping Charlie, you may be required to use a chemical to begin with; but if you properly use the product, you should be able to follow up with hand-weeding and cultural practices for long-term management. One treatment of a product that contains the active ingredients 2, 4-D, dicamba and trichlopyr is effective on the most difficult weeds. I would like to emphasize, however, that you want to follow label instructions exactly. It is better to use it once and take care of the problem then to be tempted to rely on synthetic herbicides throughout the season, every year.
Clearly there is no magic bullet for weed control, but we can take some common-sense measures to devise an overall management plan. We have come to rely too heavily on the use of herbicides to fix our problems when we already have all the free tools we need: memory, reason and nimble fingers.
Once your weeds are under control, follow up with smart cultural practices like maintaining a taller stand of turf (don’t mow grass shorter then two and a half inches); use mulching materials in beds (no more then two inches), and hoe or hand-weed as soon as you notice something. You can also use corn gluten-based products as a granular pre-emergent to prevent weed seed from germinating. For this product to work effectively you must follow up with an application about every 10 weeks. Corn gluten is perfectly safe and provides a small amount of nitrogen to the garden as well. Don’t use it where you are starting plants from seed, however.
We also employ a flame-weeder that I will use on annual weeds like henbit that can carpet some areas in the vegetable garden in spring. The “Dragon” effectively cooks young tender weed seedlings, but getting to them early is key.
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.