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This week in The Independent Gardener, we will be highlighting the bane of every gardener’s existence, weeds. Weed control is probably the worst part about having a garden. You plant your nice tomatoes and peppers in your freshly tilled beds and then BAM! A couple weeks later there are all these good for nothing weeds popping up, crowding your plants, taking the life right out from underneath them. Annoying. Well this week we will be looking at some easy ways to keep the weeds out with out breaking your back. 

The first and simplest way to rid your garden from weeds, is a good old fashion hoe. Hoeing between rows and plants can be a lot easier than stooping over to pluck out weeds by hand. Annual weeds will die when you cut the stems from the roots, so using a sharp how can cut back on weeds tremendously. Weeds that return from bits of roots, like a dandelion for example, will need to be dug out. However, if you hoe the annuals down, the perennials will become easier to spot and remove. A typical square hoe will do you just fine, but you do have some better options out there. A more effecting style of hoe is the swan neck hoe, also known as the half moon. This tool style is Dutch in origin and is designed for cutting weeds. Unlike the square hoe, the blade on the swan neck is a little different. The edge is still flat but the back side of the head is rounded, forming a crescent shape.  The neck of the tool is slightly curved, unlike the straight pole of the square hoe. This allows for the hoe to better get into those hard to reach places. The handle is shorter, but more accurate. It isn’t for hard tilling, but rather gentle, precise use. Using the edges and the corners of the blade, drag gently about an inch under the soil and cut the pesky weeds down, above the roots but below the soil. Another style of hoe good for weed control is the oscillating or the stirrup hoe. The pole is straight, but the head is totally different than the square and half moon. Instead of a flat, vertically placed blade, the stirrup hoe has a horizontally placed blade. It is referred to as an open box blade and appears like a stirrup on a horse’s saddle. The edges are all sharpened and it will work when pushed or pulled through the soil. The sizes vary with these hoes, but all will work for tight spaced weed control. The handle on this model is usually longer than square and swan neck hoes, for easier use and less back breaking bending. With the use of any style of hoe, proper grip is the most important aspect for easy weeding and preventing back pains. Hold the hoe as you would a broom, thumbs pointing up, and closer to the back of the pole. The closer to the back of the handle, the more leverage you will have and the less stooping you will have to endure. 

The next easy weed control method is mulching. Mostly mulch works by keeping the light from getting to the weeds, preventing seed germination and photosynthesis. This also makes weeds that emerge shallow in roots, easier to pull and easier to see. Mulch can come in a variety of forms. Natural mulches include straw, grass clippings, leaves, and shredded bark or wood chips. These are typically cheaper, some being from your own yard, and easily obtainable. For added protection, consider laying sheets of newspaper or cardboard down around your plants prior to mulching. The paper further smothers the weeds, but still allows water to seep through.  The best thing about mulch and newspapers is the biodegradability. After your garden is harvested, you can just till the whole thing under, plants, mulch, and paper, without worry. The mulch mixed with your soil will decay and add nutrients to your beds. A win-win situation is you ask me. 

Now you might have some well established, persistent weeds. Or a whole lot of weeds. Or maybe some weeds in hard to remove places, like in wedged between patio stones or gravel. You might like to use a chemical and just kill the weeds off. Before you reach for the harsh stuff, you might try something from your kitchen. Vinegar has been used as weed killer for some time now. There are many different recipes out there for different potencies and purposes.  Vinegar is less chemically and mysterious than some of the store bought herbicides, plus its a ton cheaper.  Many of the common herbicides are not biodegradable as well, while vinegar is. In fact, in 2011, Monsanto, a well known producer of genetically altered seeds and the popular herbicide Roundup, agreed to discontinue the use of the terms “biodegradable” and “environmentally friendly” in their advertisements for the product. It’s not just Roundup though.  Most of the herbicides produced today will remain in the soil for who knows how long, after your weeds are long gone. If your going to kill weeds, why not do it with something cheaper and less harsh. However, be warned that vinegar KILLS ANYTHING UNSELECTIVELY. So do not go spraying carelessly. It is effective, too effective. You can use it in a pump sprayer for larger areas or sidewalks, but I would not recommend this sprayer for selective spraying. A small, handheld spray bottle would be more ideal for in between flowers or crops. Many folks use plain undiluted vinegar.  Just spritz it on the weeds you want to destroy and wait. Eventually the acid will kill all those unwanted plants by drawing out the liquid in the plant cells. Then all you have to do is gather the dead weeds up and pitch them. There are recipes that include combinations of salt of salt, soaps, water, and vinegar, but really experimenting with different mixtures is the best way to determine your weed killing needs.  This is a very unpredictable method of weed killing, so test it on a small scale before you go spray crazy, just to be sure your will get your desired results. 

The most effective solution to weed control is persistence. Weeds will always grow back. There will always be weeds in your garden. Finding what works for you and sticking to it is the only way you can be weed free. 

If you are interested in newspapers for weed control or any other purpose, stop by The Doddridge Independent office at 200 East Main Street in West Union for free papers! 


– Happy Planting!