In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
May, 2012
Regional Report

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Field bindweed, shown here twining around and through a rock wall in my garden, is one of my most problematic weeds.

Thoughts on Weed Control

Despite the dry conditions in my yard and garden, weeds flourish and bloom. Their one goal is to grow, flower, and reproduce. One thing I've learned over the course of my career as I gardened in various places throughout the region -- weeds don't have to be a bad thing.

When I was a child, I watched my Italian grandmother put weeds to use in the kitchen. She taught me that when certain weeds are in their juvenile stages, they are good for the eating. A spicy dandelion salad with balsamic vinegar and hard-boiled eggs was served regularly in the spring. Even purslane was used in salad recipes. Before the chicory bloomed, young rosettes were harvested and torn into pieces for fresh greens.

Perennial weeds that return with a vengeance, year after year, are perhaps the most disliked. One of my weed nemeses is tenacious field bindweed. It invades my vegetable garden with its deep roots and aggressive growth that twines in and around the rock walls.

Many homeowners control weeds by spraying with herbicides, much as many farmers do. However, in many instances, homeowners use weed killers at much higher rates and more frequently than the farmers, a consequence of the reasoning that if a little is good, more is better. But using more than is needed increases the likelihood of harm to plants and the environment. So if you choose to use herbicides, read and follow the label directions carefully. When it says to mix one teaspoon of the herbicide per gallon of water, for example, add just one teaspoon, not several.

Better yet, if you learn how weeds grow and understand their life cycles, then we you develop strategies to control them more safely and effectively. Digging and hoeing weeds when they are young and vulnerable often eliminates the need to use chemicals. When weeds are allowed to grow and develop a deeper roots system, they become much harder they are to control.

Deeper and less frequent watering of your lawn will discourage many weeds including crabgrass, purslane, and spurge. In addition, mowing frequently and maintaining a height of two inches or more will help choke out weeds like dandelions.

Homemade remedies can be effective, too. My grandmother used full strength vinegar to spot treat weeds in the vegetable garden without harming her tomatoes and peppers. Did you know that a shovelful of full strength chicken manure will burn out a weed? Even table salt was used to kill small tree stumps. Just be careful with the salt, as it can sterilize the soil and leach into other areas with watering.

So next time, before you reach for a bottle of weed killer, take a moment to consider other methods for controlling weeds that are friendlier to your yard and garden.

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