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Archive for the ‘Ornamentals’ Category

Irvine, California

Pink Coneflower

 

 

Durango, Colorado

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Durango. Colorado

Irvine, California

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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California

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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California

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Ah, weeding. The bane of many a gardener’s day. I hate it, you hate it and, yet, it needs doing. So what’s the secret to effective weed control in the garden? Let’s start off by saying it is most definitely not synthetic chemicals, especially if you are growing food crops. The simple answer is in this post’s title — hit them early and hit them hard. But for all its simplicity this little phrase begs for an explanation that’s just a bit more complicated.

Let’s agree that a weed is any plant that’s growing where you don’t want it to grow. And let’s also, since weeds and weeding can morph into a rather large topic, limit the discussion to weeding in established beds.

Weeds aren’t just are annoying, they’re competing for resources — space, food, water, sunlight — with the plants that you’re trying to grow. Left in your vegetable gardens, they can stunt the growth of your crop plants and reduce the amount and quality of your harvest. They can also harbor pests.

Weeds are programmed to survive very harsh conditions. They tolerate drought, heat, floods, and some have developed a resistance to herbicides. Their seeds can lay dormant for a very long time. I’m sure you’ve noticed when cultivating a new bed that lots of weeds spring to life after you’ve disturbed the soil. That’s because you woke the little suckers from their long naps.

So, how do we get rid of them? There are three primary methods of controlling weeds: cultural, mechanical/physical, and chemical.

Cultural control refers to things like providing good growing conditions for your plants — proper watering; healthy, fertile soil; planting the right plants in the right place; planting ornamentals that fill in quickly, leaving little room for weeds; planting ground covers; rotating crops; and once your beds have been prepared not cultivating too deeply, only an inch or so, to prevent disturbing more of those pesky dormant weed seeds.

Mechanical or physical methods like hoeing, cultivating and hand-pulling are the best methods of controlling weeds in your garden. You can also covering bare soil with barriers like landscape fabric, newspapers, black plastic, and mulches. Just remember that when you use a barrier (landscape fabric, newspapers, etc.) for weed control, you’ll need to use a liquid-based fertilizer so it can get through to the soil.

And finally, chemical controls. Wait, you say, chemical controls in an organic garden? Well, yes there are such things as organic chemical controls. One good one is a strong solution of vinegar, either a 5% solution like you can buy in the grocery store or a stronger 9% solution that you can find sold as pickling vinegar. The Sunset Western Gardens book recommends a solution of 1 tablespoon liquid soap + 1/4 cup salt + 1 quart of vinegar. Spray only on the weed you want to kill (it will kill what it touches) preferably on a warm, sunny day.

But the real secret for keeping many weeds from flourishing in your garden is to know when to weed. Most weeds, particularly annual weeds, will grow in a first flush in the spring or when you cultivate a new bed. Remove this first flush as it begins to germinate in the early stages of growth before pollination. You really must do this BEFORE it gets a chance to set seed, because once that happens a whole new round of weeds begins to grow. After the first flush is gone you’ll get a smaller second flush which you should also remove before they get pollinated. Finally, after you remove the third flush you should have only a few stragglers to deal with for the rest of the season.

A word about composting weeds. There are some that you can compost with no trouble. Others won’t come back to haunt you if your compost is hot enough to kill the seeds. But the there are some, especially the creeping perennial weeds like bermudagrass and woodsorrel (oxalis), that you should throw out with the green waste because no amount of heat that you can generate in a home composting situation will destroy their ability to reproduce. And I’m quite sure the last thing you’d want to do is reintroduce weeds into your beds when you amend the soil next fall.

So, long story short, here’s the plan:

  • Weed as soon as you see the first flush of green — before pollination and seed set.
  • Do it two more times to eliminate most of the annual weeds.
  • Keep pulling or killing perennial weeds, you’ll eventually get rid of most of them.
  • Don’t cultivate or disturb the soil too deeply (only and inch or so) once you get your beds and soil prepped to keep dormant seeds from coming to the surface and sprouting.
  • Crowd out weeds with desirable plants.
  • Keep your plants healthy so they can compete successfully.
  • Mulch to a depth of at least 2″ to keep weeds from sprouting and to make removing them easier.

I’d say happy weeding, but that’s pushing it. At best it can be that kind of soothing and contemplative activity that’s made all the more delightful by the idea that you will be soon be getting the upper hand!

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Block Island, Rhode Island

Irvine, California


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Today’s tips are meant for gardeners in Southern California, but will apply to those of you in cooler climates in a month or so.

We’ve been having a spell of wet, cool weather. Normally things are growing at a rapid pace by now, but because the night-time (and even the day) temps have been unseasonably cool our gardens are a bit behind where they would normally be. Still, that’s ok because it gives us a chance to catch up if we’ve fallen behind.

March Garden Maintenance

  • Fertilize lawns. I use GroPower Plus and it seems to work well. It has humic acid which is really good for conditioning the heavy clay soil in our area.
  • Fertilize roses. This year I’m trying Dr. Earth Organic 3 Rose and Flower Fertilizer. It’s got lots of great ingredients, like fish bone meal and kelp meal, that should help my roses be strong and healthy.
  • Check new growth for pests. Staying on top of pests in your garden is key to keeping plants healthy. Succulent new growth attracts sucking insects like aphids.
    • My roses have aphids. I washed them off with a stream of water and I’m going to pick up a container or two of ladybugs to help keep them under control.
    • Snails and slugs. We’re likely to notice a big increase in their numbers because of all the rain we’ve had. If you garden organically, you’ll have help in controlling snails and slugs. Lizards will eat them, as will opossums and birds. You can lay down barriers of diatomaceous earth, sand or crushed eggshells to keep them from your plants. Copper barriers on tree trunks will keep them from climbing up and eating fruit (they love citrus). You can capture them by watering an area they frequent and laying down a board or a piece of old carpet. You can also use dampened tubes of rolled newspapers. — anything that creates a dark, damp space. Wait a day or so and pick it up in the morning to capture these pests. Seal them in a plastic bag and throw them in the trash. You can also put some beer in a shallow pan or can. They’ll come for a drink and fall in and drown.
  • Pinch back fuchsias. Cut them back by two-thirds or so, leaving 2-5 leaf buds for new growth.
  • Divide perennials like agapanthus, callas, day lilies, rudbeckia and daisies.
  • Pruning – many books will tell you it’s time to prune ornamentals, but it’s best to wait a while until the spring nesting season is over. Otherwise you might inadvertently prune away a nest with eggs or baby birds. (Speaking of which, check out Thursday’s Garden Journal for an exciting surprise!)
  • Stay on top of weeding. The rains will make weeds pop up, so get them out of your beds while the damp soil makes it easy and before they disperse seeds for a whole new round of weeds.
  • Finish cleaning up storm debris in your flower beds. Put down some compost or other organic fertilizer (see last week’s tips on improving your soil) and mulch.

We’ve noticed in our search terms that a number of people are looking for information about digging fresh manure into soil. Be careful. Some manures must be aged before you use them. If you are preparing new beds and will be able to leave it to mature for at least couple of weeks, you can dig in fresh horse or cow manure. However, don’t dig these manures into soil near plants. It will heat up as it decomposes and it will burn your plants’ roots, possibly killing them. Chicken manure also needs to be aged – at lease three months.

Once these “hot” manures have been aged for three months, you can use them as you would other fertilizers. Other manures like rabbit or llama poo are ok to use straight, both for digging into new beds and as top dressing on established beds. Just be sure you find out how much to use. Too much of anything will cause big problems.

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