Managing Weeds in the Landscape and Garden

Jesse Eastman
Fort Collins Nursery

While weeds always present a challenge when gardening, 2021 on the Front Range has been particularly difficult. A wet spring followed by intense heat created ideal conditions for weeds to thrive. Many desirable plants need special attention and love to get growing in the spring and additional love and resources to survive the summer heat, but weeds are experts at growing fast in almost any conditions and in any soil, often out-competing nearby plants for water, light, and nutrients. Aside from using weed prevention products like landscape fabric and mulch, here are a few ways to make sure weeds don’t get the best of your yard:

 

Weed when it’s wet

Plants that we consider to be weeds are experts in survival. One way they survive against all odds is by easily re-growing from their roots, even if they’re cut off right down to the soil surface. When you’re pulling weeds, you’ve got to do what you can to get them out by the roots. Roots release more easily from soft damp soil, so plan your weeding expeditions for shortly after you’ve watered, before the soil dries and hardens. 

 

The right tools for the job

If the weeds you’re fighting with are small seedlings that have spread throughout an area, a hula hoe or winged weeder will do the trick nicely. These are tools that scrape the surface of the soil, disrupting the tiny roots of young plants. If you’re going after larger, more established, deep-rooted weeds, you may need a digger such as a hori hori knife or a dandelion weeder which can dig deep and loosen the soil around stronger and deeper root structures. 

Take care of your body

Weeding is physical work but doesn’t need to destroy your body. Knee pads will help you stay on your knees longer with less pain. A garden kneeler can pad your knees, and many options include handles that help provide support when you’re constantly going from kneeling to standing and back down again. Find a good pair of gloves that fit well and allow you to maintain some dexterity. I prefer nitrile-dipped cloth gloves for most weeding work, as they allow me to still feel out the tiny weeds with my fingertips while providing adequate protection from some of the more prickly pests like thistle.

Herbicides are a tool – use them wisely

Rarely is manually removing weeds enough to keep them at bay. There are a wide range of products available to help control undesirable plants, ranging from products like horticultural vinegar which kill foliage to systemic herbicides which are absorbed through leafy material and kill the roots. There are products that kill some plants and not others, and there are products that only kill parts of plants, such as suckers, without harming the main plant. There are even products that inhibit seed germination (pre-emergents) that can prevent seedy weeds from taking root. Talk to your local gardening expert to determine the best option for your particular challenge. It’s important to select the right herbicide for the job and to use it correctly and safely!

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