Doing Battle With Weeds - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

Doing Battle With Weeds

No matter whether the weather is cool or hot, wet or dry, gardeners must do battle with weeds. By definition, a weed is any plant that grows where it is not wanted. Despite having a number of weapons to conduct this battle, the weeds seem to win as least as often as we do!

The best weapons for the home garden and landscape include tools, such as the hoe and rototiller. There are quite a few different designs for weeding tools, including different handle lengths, pointed, arrow-shaped blades, winged blades and scuffle hoes, which have a twin-blade action. For larger areas, shallow cultivation with a rototiller a few times during the season can do wonders.

Mulching around plants will go a long way toward reducing the ability of weeds to take over. Organic mulches tend to cool the soil, as well as conserve soil moisture and reduce weed germination. Materials such as chipped or shredded bark, straw, hay, grass clippings or pine needles should be applied 2-4 inches deep and replenished as needed. Plastic mulch tends to warm the soil and is best used on warm-season vegetables, such as tomatoes, melons, squash and peppers. If soil gets too hot in mid-summer, you might want to put a shallow layer of organic mulch on top of the plastic.

Don’t underestimate the power of your bare hands (well, make that gloved-hands)! Young weeds can be very easy to pull, especially during or just after a rain. You want to prevent the weeds from going to seed, as that will bring many more future battles. For example, a single dandelion plant can produce 15,000 seeds in one year, and each seed is capable of surviving for up to 6 years in the soil. Each purslane plant can produce more than 52,000 seeds, and these seeds can survive up to 30 years in the soil. So, it is in your best interest to stay ahead of the weeds!

Although there is a dizzying number of herbicides (pesticides designed to kill plants) approved by the EPA, there is a relatively limited number of them available in small, homeowner-sized packages. Generally speaking, herbicides are low in risk to people and animals when they are used according to the label. But there is a risk of doing damage to the very plants you are trying to protect.

There are different types of herbicides, based on how they perform. Some must be applied before the weeds emerge; others can be applied after they have already started growing. Some have a greater tendency to volatilize and drift from their intended target.

Some herbicide products come ready to use in a convenient, trigger-spray bottle, while others have to be mixed with water. There are also some specialized application products that can help minimize risk to desirable plants, such as wick and wand applicators that allow you to place the herbicide directly on the intended victim.

It is easy to see where the home gardener can end up causing unintended damage to other plants. If you choose to use a herbicide, be sure to read and follow all of the label instructions before you apply. And, if you use sprayers and other equipment for herbicide application, make sure you label them for that use and have a different set that is used for other types of pesticides.

For more information on weed control in the yard and garden, contact your county Extension office for a copy of publication HO-217. This and many other publications are also available online at Purdue University’s Web site. Just set your Web browser to and scroll down to see the available titles.


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Disclaimer: Reference to products is not intended to be an endorsement to the exclusion of others which may have similar uses. Any person using products listed in these articles assumes full responsibility for their use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.
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