September is here and many plants in the vegetable garden are going to seed. Some of those plant are weeds. Depending on how carefully you kept your plots and landscapes weeded this season, you may have lots or you may have few. However many weeds you have, now’s the last chance you have to get them before the cycle starts all over again next spring. Any work you do now will make your weeding easier next year.
I know, I know . . . the best and most effective weeding is done in early season when the ground is soft and the weeds are small, shallowly rooted and vulnerable. But it’s too late for that. And next spring will be too late to stop weed seeds from spreading now. Weeding is a continuous activity in the organic garden and one’s attitude towards it has a lot to do with seeing it as a chore and impossible task or an ongoing activity that provides exercise, fresh air and a chance to get close to one’s garden. Part of that attitude requires acceptance. You’ll never get all the weeds (or maybe you’re one of those people with small plots who will) and it’s better just to accept some. Even those herbicides we see advertised on television as giving complete control don’t get all the weeds. Just make sure the weeds you miss aren’t the most noxious or persistent. Those are the ones to concentrate on.
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One other thing regarding attitude. It’s said that weeds are plants for which a use has yet to be found. They’re often the same local wildflowers we admire when they’re not in our garden. This may all be true, but we don’t want anything to limit or compete with our flowers and vegetables, let alone add their own improvisational touches to our landscape plans. Some weeds have value, like purslane (you can eat it) but are also highly undesirable in the garden. Your own tolerance for weeds is up to you. But the simple fact about weeds is there’s always one more. Identify them here and here.
This time of year, it’s important to prevent seeding. Weed seeds are persistent and patient. Some weed seeds, purslane for example, will exist for decades in the soil waiting for a chance to sprout. If you have unwanted plants that are going to seed, pick as much of the plant as you can and stuff it immediately in a bag. It’s more important at this point to get the seeds than the entire plant and root. When you’re done, put that bag in the trash.
If you’re pulling weeds that have yet to seed, do what you can to get the entire root. But don’t work to hard at it. Taking just the tops of weeds this time of year will set them back, prevent them from seeding and make them easier to get next year. If you’re working on weeds in your yard, break up the soil near the weed (or weeds) being careful not to sever the root into pieces and remove all of it, especially the root, as you can. Then over seed with grass. This will serve to smother the weeds the following spring when, if they do come up, they’ll be easier to pull.
Take all the weed with you when you pull it. If you’re hoeing between rows, take everything you turn up. Many weeds — purslane again — will root from stems and pieces, allowing them to spread all over again. Cleaning up is important. Using weeds as mulch or putting them in your compost seems like a good idea but isn’t if they’re harboring seed. How many times did we throw beautiful dandelion flowers in our compost heap only to watch them continue the seeding cycle and turn into little, umbrella-like seeds ready to blow away in the wind? (Answer: once.)
If weeds have hit your lawn, now’s the time to make things unpleasant for them. Discourage the places where weeds flourish — compacted soil, areas of duff, dead patches — by breaking up the soil, cleaning it out and reseeding. Over seeding is recommended at this point to give you thick, young, weed-smothering growth. After winter freezes, the grass will thin naturally. If it doesn’t survive the winter, reseed again in the spring. If you have crab or other unwanted grasses in your yard, don’t let them go to seed. Set your mower lower (it’s safe now that the weather is cooler) and keep them from setting seed heads. If you want to finish them off, try a mixture of vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Two or three applications on the grasses should weaken them sufficiently for you (hand-weeding) or winter to do them in. Remember, this will also take out the grass you want, so spray carefully.
Also, fall is a good time to add compost to your lawn. The thicker your grass is, the less chance weeds will have to germinate and survive. A healthy spreading of compost will assure your lawn everything it needs to accomplish just that.
Have large patches of weeds in unused or disturbed soil that need dealing with? Torch ’em. Though best done early in the season, burning off weeds is also effective in dealing with weed seed later in the season. No need to flame each weed. A simple pass over the tops will do what you want done (CAUTION: NEVER USE A TORCH IN DRY, FIRE-PRONE CONDITIONS. ALWAYS WAIT UNTIL AFTER A RAIN OR USE DURING MOIST, HIGH-HUMIDITY CONDITIONS.) I dealt with a thistle patch that had sprung up in a tilled, but unplanted garden spot this way once. While the torching took care of seeds and flower heads it left the roots. But this kept them from spreading and made it easier, with a thick pair of gloves, to remove them from our moist, Pacific-Northwest soil. We learned the hard way that digging them up and leaving behind broken bits of root allows them to spread. We finally cleaned this patch up after years of digging and screening out the roots. Moral? Don’t let them get started.
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