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Organic Weed Control 101
by Jodi DeLong
by Jodi DeLong


Writing about plants and gardening is just one part of Jodi¹s professional writing business. She¹s been a garden columnist for the Atlantic Co-operator for over five years, and last year was invited to do a biweekly column in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Canada¹s oldest independent daily newspaper. In addition, she writes regular garden features for Saltscapes magazine, Manitoba Co-operator, Grainews, Rural Delivery, and has also had various feature articles in Canadian Gardening, Cottage Life, Complete Canadian Gardener, Aquascapes Lifestyles, and East Coast Gardener. Jodi sits on the National Board of Directors for PWAC, the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, as Atlantic Regional Director, and is also a member of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. When she¹s not writing, she¹s gardening, reading about gardening, photographing gardens, thinking about gardening, or ignoring the housework.

August 17, 2003

I long ago opted to be an organic gardener, so even with invasive plants I refuse to resort to chemical warfare. As more communities are educating or legislating a wise reduction or ban on pesticide use, looking for organic options seems a wise choice. At our home, we tend to use preventative measures in combating weeds.

Mulch, mulch, mulch! Depending on whether or not you opt for an organic mulch such as leaves, evergreen needles, or bark, there will be some nutritive elements put back into the soil. Mulch is also a great way to conserve moisture around plants, particularly as we move towards being more water-wise gardeners coping with drier growing seasons. One of the best reasons to mulch is to help keep down weeds. Seeds and seedlings have a tough time growing up through an inch or two of light-blocking material. The only drawback to mulching is that organic mulches do break down over time, so you have to reapply if you see the material is disappearing and weeds are coming back. Some people opt for the black landscape cloth as a type of mulch. I consider that as annoying as any weed, particularly if you don't know a previous gardener has used the stuff--and don't find out until you find rags of it wrapped around your rototiller in the vegetable plot!

Plant heavily to shade out weeds. Our flower gardens grow incrementally each year, as I persist in bringing home new species and varieties to try. Perennials, of course, are fairly small in their first year or two of growth, so while they are getting established we tend to plant them fairly close together. Plus we have a number of what I refer to as 'free range flowers': annuals that selfseed and pop up as volunteers where they will. I suppose to some more formal gardeners, volunteer plants can be considered weeds. But we tend to be more cottage-gardeners here, so if there is nigella (love-in-a-mist) creating a lacy effect in amongst the rosebushes and perennials, or sunflowers and poppies springing up like punctuation marks throughout the yard, that's fine by us. These volunteers also help to shade out weeds that would like to take over.

Manual labour. I don't like to use a hoe around plants, because unless you hoe carefully, you can do more harm to your ornamental or food plants than to the weeds that are cohabiting. Many people, myself included, actually enjoy weeding by hand, pulling out those annuals and biennials that have fibrous root systems. With the weed species that have tap root systems, hand weeding can be a bit more challenging, but there are lovely tools designed to help break and remove the roots.

Fall Prevention=Less Spring Fighting

Although it's getting cold and weeds aren't really an issue in late fall, you can do some preventative work to lessen the battle when spring arrives. Biennial and some perennial weeds produce low-growing rosettes of leaves in their first year of growth. In the next year, flowers and seeds will be produced from this rosette, and the plant will die, but there will be thousands of potential seedlings if the flowers are allowed to go to seed. So if you pull the plants in fall or even winter before the flowers come, you've eliminated that plant as a source of seeds for future generations. Cool season perennial weeds like chickweed (Stellaria media) and sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) stay green through much of the winter, and can be pulled at any time prior to their rapid growth in spring.

We can plant bulbs until a hard frost or snow cover occurs, and bulb planting time is a good time to add mulch in areas where the cover seems to be thinning. A fresh layer of mulch also helps to cover and hopefully shade out any weed seeds that have landed in the garden.

Planting green manure or living mulches in the fall is also a good way to combat weeds. Clover makes a good mulch around asparagus, a notoriously difficult plant to weed, and also provides nutrients to the growing spears.

Annual rye, often planted as a winter cover crop, has alleopathic tendencies, secreting substances that deter the growth of other plants. Cultivated into the soil come spring, it suppresses weed growth for several weeks, as well as providing green nutrition.



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