Weed Control

Weed Control – Getting to the root of the problem.

One of my favorite sayings is “a weed is just a plant in the wrong place”.  Unfortunately, the problem behind that saying is that it makes weeds into innocuous inhabitants of your garden when we all know that they are problematic, and can take a dire toll on your intended plants’ health.  Weeds will compete with your desired plants for nutrients and moisture in the soil, and can even damage their roots if they grow right at their base.  They can effectively kill off a small seedling just struggling to survive by shading it.  They tend to grow in wild patterns with no structure, lending the garden a messy feel wherever they show up.  Some weeds go to seed rapidly and are hard to keep in check.  Other weeds might have a very strong root system making them virtually impossible to pull, such as tree suckers, mallows, and wild blackberry.  They are disruptive to fruit and vegie production, and to the refined look of an ornamental garden.  The bottom line is that if they are growing in your garden, then they are definitely in the wrong place.

I recommend pulling weeds by the root to remove them completely from the soil.  If you just use a weed whacker (line trimmer), you are essentially mowing the weeds, and making their roots stronger.  Sure, they are topped for now and make everything look nice and neat, but next month they will be back with a vengeance, more resilient than ever.

To pull weeds by the root, I recommend using a weeding tool.  With your tool, stab the ground near the plant base to loosen the soil, and then gently pull up on the weed while gripping it’s trunk, taking care to get the roots and not allowing them to snap and stay in the ground.  If you are dealing with hard, dry earth, it is best to water the ground the day before you will be pulling weeds.  I know, it sounds counter-intuitive to water the weeds, but it makes pulling them so much easier and you will be more successful at getting to the root of the problem!

My favorite weeding tool is a Hori-Hori, a Japanese serrated knife of sorts, with a thick metal blade and a wooden handle.  Most Hori-Horis come with a sheath for your belt or to clip on your pocket.  I consider the Hori-Hori to be one of the essential garden tools.  I use mine daily.  It is also useful as a trowel, used for installing small plants.  Basically, my Hori-Hori has replaced my weeding tool and my trowel, and is conveniently located in a leather sheath on my hip for easy access.



Not all Hori-Horis are the same– there is definitely a range of quality available out there.  Also, a lot of them come with cheap sheaths that tend to fall apart after a few months of use.  I usually buy a good quality leather sheath separately that I know will last, and shelve the included one for emergency use.

Another way to attack a weed problem is to kill them before they even sprout!  Pre-emergent is a selective herbicide that I often use in my clients’ gardens due to it’s effectiveness at controlling weeds.  Granted, it will not kill the weeds that are already there, but it will prevent new weed seeds from germinating and populating the garden.  The pre-emergent that I most often employ is made by Preen and it’s active ingredient is Triflularin.

Preen Garden Weed Preventer

Preen Weed Preventer

Triflularin is a fairly safe chemical, not known to cause developmental or reproductive problems in humans or test animals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  In acute exposures, Trifluralin is practically nontoxic to mammals and birds, according to the Extension Toxicology Network, although is very toxic to fish, so caution should be observed if using near a Koi pond.  Test rats that were fed it for two years did develop tumors, so the EPA has determined that it may possibly be carcinogenic for humans, although it still has not been proven, nor have any cases been reported.  Dogs that were fed Triflularin for one year showed weight loss, changes in blood, and an increased liver weight, but no tumors or other problems.  It has been used widely in agriculture since the late 60’s, mostly on soybean (64%) and cotton crops (19%).

Pre-emergent is a useful tool that will help free up your time to do things in the garden other than chasing after the weeds.  It really works!  I tend to spread it every three months since it’s usefulness is diluted after a few months, and I always apply in the late fall or early winter before the rains begin (in the SF bay area.)  It doesn’t take much to do it’s job.

There is an “organic” version of pre-emergent available on the market, even by my favorite company Preen.  They guarantee that it will work or your money will be refunded, but I have yet to get the same kind of results from the organic version that I do from the version with Triflularin as the active ingredient.  The organic version is 100% corn gluten meal, and the term “organic” in fertilizers and other garden products is used loosely, and does not mean the same thing as “certified organic” when talking about your vegetables picked up from the local farmer’s market.  When you buy a “certifeid organic” carrot, that is a carrot that was grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides.  When a bag of soil or herbicide advertises that it is “organic”, that pertains to the fact that it was created out of or derived from plant or animal material or other living organisms.  So, the “organic” pre-emergent was made out of corn, but it
doesn’t necessarily mean that the corn itself was “certified organic”, grown without the use of chemicals.  Personally, I would rather use the chemical Triflularin than take a chance  of spreading GMO corn around my yard.

It may be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway– do not use pre-emergent in an area that you plan on sprouting seeds, such a lawn area that you plan on re-seeding, or a vegetable bed that you plan to start with seeds instead of seedlings.

I also found that pre-emergent does not work on bulbous plants.  The bad news with that is that if you have a huge problem with Oxalis, pre-emergent won’t help.  The good news with that is that if you have spring and summer bulbs hiding in the ground (ie: daffodils, crocus, dahlias, iris, etc), then you can use the pre-emergent and still get your bulbs to grow and bloom when it comes time.

Now that I have bragged up the merits of pre-emergent, let me switch gears and warn you away from the use of Round Up!  Round Up is a great way to kill any plant, not just weeds, so if you are spraying in your garden, chances are the mist is also landing on your desired plants, and killing or crippling them also.  I have seen this in action many times over my years of gardening.  When I took my contractor test, a few of the questions revolve around Round Up since it can be very dangerous.  It is against the law (at least CA contractor law) to spray it during winds of more than 2 miles per hour since you could essentially end up spraying your neighbor’s yard also.  Another question was about smoking while applying it– a big no-no.  It is a little known fact that Round Up is highly combustible.  It could blow up if exposed to open flame.  So, if you are a smoker, and want to apply Round Up, don’t do it at the same time!

The active ingredient in Round Up is Glyphosate, an effective plant killer.  Not only will it kill plants, but it is also toxic to many creatures, such as beneficial insects, mammals, birds and earthworms, according to the Organic Consumers website The New York Times reports that effects of a human consuming Glyphosate can include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, headache, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, general weakness and possible coma.  On the Round Up product warning label, it states that it can also cause skin rashes and eye irritation if exposed to those areas.  A recent study published by Entropy physics journal links Glyphosate as a factor in the development of many diseases, including Parkinson’s, autism, obesity, infertility, Alzheimer’s, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  According the study authors, Stephanie Seneff (MIT) & Anthony Samsel (retired science consultant), “Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.”

It is also linked to the destruction of normal gut flora, allowing bad bacteria to take over and cause many digestive problems and disease, according to Don Huber, Ph.D.  Glyphosate also blocks the gut from making tryptophan, the foundation of seratonin, which can in turn cause depression, obsessive compulsive disorders, and even suicide.

Glyphosate is attributed to contaminating ground water supplies by people using it on sidewalks; most of it just ends up running off into the sewers.  Not only does this affect our drinking water, but it also affects our oceans as Glyphosate does not easily or readily break up in the environment.

Enough said– Round Up is a bad guy that should not be used, or used sparingly and with caution.

Weeds can be nasty but the method in which you remove them can have lasting and even nastier effects on your long term health and the environment, so again I will warn you to be careful when using chemicals.  Steer clear of Round-Up and instead put your body to the test by being manual in your labors and pulling the existing weeds by the root.  Give the pre-emergent (Preen Weed Preventer) a try in areas that you do not use seeds, after you have your garden weeded out, and see just how easy it makes it to stay on top of the future maintenance.  Good luck, and good riddance to your weeds!

Article written by Charm Dreier

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