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Gardening With Laurie: Good soil management can control weed problems

Aug. 10, 2010 at 3:10 a.m.
Updated Aug. 11, 2010 at 3:11 a.m.

Laurie Garretson

By Laurie Garretson

Talk with any gardener long enough, and the topic of conversation will usually turn to the weather. It does not take long for any new gardener to learn how dependent they will become on Mother Nature. Rain, heat, wind, hail, freezes and droughts, are all very important contributors to the success or failure of any plant.

The extended cold temperatures last winter were like a surprise wake-up call from Mother Nature. Then, last summer, we were dealing with the horrible drought. Despite the unpredictable weather, there are still gardeners who enjoy the challenge of working in the soil and working with nature.

I don't believe you'd be able to find many people, gardeners or not, that would complain about the weather Mother Nature provided us last spring. How wonderful it was to garden, work and to just be outdoors. But what a difference a few months can make. August really isn't a very enjoyable time to be a gardener in our part of the world. There's no question about it; it's just way too hot.

We have been lucky to have had several good rain showers the last few months. Most lawns around town show the benefits of all the moisture. Because of the rains, there seems to be fewer grass problems this summer, at least so far.

With the rain showers come weeds. Most gardeners spend hours tending to weed control in their lawns, flower beds and garden areas. Thousands of dollars are spent each season in our area on chemical weed control products. Fortunately, there is growing concern among organic and even non-organic gardeners about all the run off from chemical herbicides found in our waterways.

Many eco-agriculturists believe that weeds are telling us what is wrong with our soils. It's been shown that good soil management can control weed problems. A healthy soil, rich in organic materials and microorganisms, is less prone to weed problems. Lower levels of beneficial microorganisms are typically found in soils that grow weeds. This lack of microbial life results in mineral imbalances, that then result in poor soil. Gardening organically will literally bring life back to your soil, chemical products won't.

Enriching the soil's fertility and microorganisms doesn't happen overnight. This is a process that can take years, depending on the condition of the soil to begin with.

How do you then handle the weed problem while you work at enriching the soil? Actually, there are several safe and effective ways to help kill and suppress weeds.

Strong vinegars mixed with orange oil is one natural solution.

Solarization, which uses energy from the sun to kill off all unwanted vegetation is another natural solution.

Crops like rye grass, clovers and vetch are commonly grown as cover crops and used as living mulches.

Several inches of shredded tree trimmings can work well in flower beds and garden areas as a natural mulch.

The state of California has used insects imported from Australia to help clear up a specific weed problem it had. Larva from this Australian beetle fed on the foliage of the weed and after a few seasons, the weed was controlled.

Animals have been used for centuries all over the world to clear off areas of unwanted plant growth. The animals get fed, the weeds are no longer a problem and the soil gets fertilized as the animal roams.

Next time you look at a weed, stop and think about what Mother Nature is telling you.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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