In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
July, 2005
Regional Report

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Lawns that are weak and thin are more prone to invasion by weeds, such as this Canada thistle.

Weeds: The Nemesis of the Yard

If you're like me, weeds are the nemesis of the yard and garden, especially when they get the upper hand and start to produce seed. Let's face it, we can't always be on top of the problem, when we've got so many other things to do in the summer.

Sometimes you might get fed up and decide to gather an arsenal of chemicals to rid the yard of the invaders. Sounds reasonable, and herbicides may help, but they are not the most environmentally friendly approach, nor are they the longest-lasting controls. Herbicides should be the last resort.

A better way to control weeds in the lawn and ornamental plantings is to prevent them from gaining a foothold in the first place. Weeds are opportunistic and tolerate a wider range of growing conditions than lawn grasses and many ground covers. So when your lawn is under stress, weeds find it easier to move right in. Just take the case of the homeowner whose lawn was cut too short (to 1 inch in some areas, and scalped around the edges) only to find that bumper crops of creeping spurge, crabgrass, and purslane happily took over.

Or, if you park your car or have friends park on the lawn, you're asking for trouble. Compacted soil invites bindweed, thistle, goose grass, knotweed, and creeping spurge.

What is my point? A vigorous, thick-growing lawn; ground covers; mulched perennials; and a vigilant eye are the best defenses against an invasion of weeds. Let's take a look a lawn management, first.

Keeping Lawns Healthy
Mowing the grass with a sharp mower blade, to a height of 2-1/2 inches or a bit higher will prevent most weed seeds from sprouting. Proper fertilizing and watering will keep your lawn growing thick enough to crowd out many weeds.

Despite our best efforts, however, some weeds, such as Canada thistle and bindweed, will pop up now and then. When they do, it's back to the "cowboy way" of getting rid of them; digging, pulling, and burning are effective if you are persistent.

Use organic mulches around ornamental shrubs and trees to prevent weeds from growing. These mulches also are very effective in the vegetable and fruit garden. A layer of mulch spread to a depth of 2 to 3 inches not only is attractive, but it will help smother annual weeds that are waiting to germinate.

If you must turn to herbicides, spot-treat weeds with a homemade weed killer that contains vinegar (10 percent acidity ) or a biodegradable soap-based weed control. Read and follow label directions.


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