Be responsible in battling those pesky weeds

GardeningJune 13, 2012 

It would be hard to not notice weeds have germinated and are starting to grow in Southcentral. Time to act.

You know the rule: No spraying with dangerous chemicals. This disturbs folks who want an instant solution to work in the yard. The problem is, there is no safe one when it comes to weeds. This leads the weak and ignorant (yes) and irresponsible (definitely) gardener to resort to chemicals which work, but harm them, their children, pets and neighbors miles and miles away.

If we are not supposed to use dangerous, hazardous, organophosphates and the like, then what are we to use seems to be the big question. Let's take a loot at some common weeds.

First, equisetum, that prehistoric leftover, also known as horsetail for somewhat obvious reasons. It has been around since the days of dinosaurs and probably even more. Chances are it will be here after the human race of gardeners that hates it so much is long gone. There is nothing a homeowner is allowed to use that will kill it so don't try.

My solution is to hand pick the feather weed stalks. They won't come back this year. Just to be sure, I apply mulch. If it is in the lawn, then simply mow it. These guys have spores. For the later reason, I drop them in a bucket and take them out of the garden. The heat of a compost pile will kill the spores.

Next, dandelions. We've been over this before. There are lots of things that will take out the top of the plant and some that will get the roots too. BurnOut, a clove-based product, horticultural grade vineger (very strong acid, so be careful), supermarket vinegar plus the contents of one of those plastic limes, iron-based products designed to kill broadleaf weeds, flamers, dandelion forks, Fiskar uproot and Hound-Dog pullers, a five iron and a good swing and corn gluten, though the last-named is a pretty expensive option even if the stuff is a nitrogen fertilizer as well. A listener to the Garden Party suggested simply using a berry picker to get the flowers so they won't go to seed.

What are not acceptable (and should not even be on the market for homeowners) are RoundUp, weed and feed formulas and Weed-B-Gone or any other product not certified by an organic agency. (Google their suspected health results or check out the recent articles about autism and HDD, for one.) Read the labels. Then go wash your hands. Michael Pollen says about food, "If you can't pronounce an ingredient, don't eat it!" This applies to weed products as well. These are not acceptable. Period. There is not one acceptable argument to the contrary.

Next, chickweed. This edible annual weed is just now appearing. Just pick it by hand or use a hoe to clear out larger areas. Again, it is important to remove pickings from the garden beds as often they will re-root. You can put them in salads or your compost pile. Then make sure to mulch. Nature almost never lets soil sit bare and you should not either. Covering bare soils makes it much harder for weeds to grow.

Chickweed, incidentally, flourishes when high nitrogen fertilizers are used (and when soil has been rototilled). So, instead, use organic fertilizers with numbers below 10-10-10. Once seeds planted in the garden have germinated, you can also use corn gluten to prevent new seeds from germinating.

Butter and eggs are up and running. They won't develop their yellow, snapdragon-like flowers for a month or more. Once they do, thousands of seeds per plant will be released making your job next year a thousand times more difficult. This makes now an ideal time to start getting them. They are small and very easy to pull or cut at ground level. Again, mulching helps keep them from growing.

These are the major weeds with which Alaskan gardens must deal. However, the term "weed" is applied to any plant that is growing where it should not be. There are others, perhaps peculiar to your garden. Runaway, self seeders like certain campanulas or giant bachelor buttons can take over a garden. You know what is growing where it shouldn't and what has become a weed. Hoe, hand pick or try one of the above remedies now and then mulch and you shouldn't have much of a weed problem for the rest of the year.

Sometimes it is difficult to take the non-chemical road, but thanks for being a responsible, intelligent and strong gardener.

GARDEN CALENDAR

ALASKA BOTANICAL GARDEN FAIRE: THIS WEEKEND. ALL GARDENERS AND FAMILY SHOULD ATTEND TO ENJOY FAMILY FUN, A GARDEN ART SHOW/SALE, CRAFT AND PLANT VENDORS, DEMONSTRATIONS, A CHILDREN'S VILLAGE, MUSIC, FOOD AND MORE. SATURDAY, 11 A.M. - 6 P.M. (MEMBERS WELCOME AT 10 A.M.) AND SUNDAY, 11 A.M. - 5 P.M. TICKETS: $8 PER PERSON AT GATE. AGES 2 AND UNDER ATTEND FREE. MORE INFORMATION AT WWW.ALASKABG.ORG

POTATOES: HILL

RADISHES: START TO EAT

SWEET PEAS: PICK AND ENJOY FLOWERS TO PREVENT THE PLANTS FROM DEVELOPING SEED AND TO ENCOURAGE MORE FLOWERS.

TOMATOES: POLLINATE BY HAND. SHAKE PLANTS.

STAKING: DON'T WAIT UNTIL PLANTS ARE TOO BIG BEFORE YOU SUPPLY SOME SUPPORT. STAKES, TOMATO CAGES AND THE LIKE SHOULD GO IN NOW.

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Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at teamingwithmicrobes.com and hear him (and call in) on the Garden Party from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturdays on KBYR, AM 700.

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