If you have children or pets, like to walk barefoot outside, or care about limiting possible pollutants from entering our water resources, there are ways you can attack your weed problems in more sustainable ways other than using chemicals. Going after the weeds in your landscape and gardens without the use of chemical herbicides can also result in less damage to nearby desired plants and cost less. Perennial weeds spread through aggressive root growth so it’s best to get after them as early in the season as possible. Annual weeds can produce several thousands of seeds per plant, so letting them go to seed is the worst thing you can do if you want to maintain low levels of troublesome weeds. Below are some of the techniques you can use:
Pulling by Hand
Hand-pulling is the most low-tech option—all you need is a good pair of gloves and some knee pads. Just think of the exercise you will get! Plus, being out in your yard gives you the opportunity catch and deal with other potential problems early. It is best to pull weeds while they are relatively small because larger weeds have extensive and mature root systems. The forceful effort it may take to pull out larger weeds could possibly even uproot a favorite nearby plant.
Using a Tool
If your weed patches are too intense to pull by hand, use of a hoe, shovel, trowel or weeder might make the work easier. As with hand-pulling, weed removal with tools is most effective if done regularly to keep weed populations low. It also provides exercise and the opportunity to scout the landscape for other potential problems. If you move up to an even larger tool, like a rototiller, your plants will benefit from the loosening of compacted soil, which will allow water to infiltrate and help roots develop better.
One of the many benefits of mulching in home landscapes and gardens is the suppression of weeds. A 2–3 inch layer of mulch will suppress weeds in most situations. Mulch also provides a clean, finished look and may also help to moderate soil temperatures and provide plant essential nutrients. Mulch helps maintain soil moisture, so you may even not have to water your plants as often. For information on types of mulch, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_mulch.
Layering Landscape Fabric
Landscape fabric can help prevent the weeds in planting beds and vegetable gardens. The fabric can be more expensive but can help reduce weed growth for two or more years. It won’t work on all weeds—especially weeds with triangular stems (like nutsedge). Their sharp growing points can penetrate thinner landscape fabrics. If weeds start growing through the fabric, it is important to pull them as soon as you see them.
Most of these strategies can be used alone or in conjunction with each other. A successful weed management program for the home will use more than one means to control weeds. If you keep at it, your efforts will slowly reduce weed populations. You’ll get to spend more time just enjoying being in your yard and you’ll be doing your part to reduce chemical use.
About the Author: Sylvia Durell is the Hernando County Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) Program Coordinator. Her position is funded by the Hernando County Utilities Department and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. She is a Certified Horticulture Professional through the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association. Ms. Durell is available for presentations to clubs and for “brown bag” lunch programs for employees of Hernando County companies. Call (352) 540-6230 for a list of topics. Click here for a list of other articles by Sylvia!