Sunday, March 15, 2015

Weeds the complicated answer

Weedless gardening? 

One of the frequent topics people ask me about is weeds. People seem to be manic about eliminating each and every weed from their gardens. When I tell them that some weeds are ok in my gardens, they tend to drift away, thinking that I'm crazy in some way. So I'd like to address some of the weed phobias gardeners have....

... Eliminate all weeds - bare earth syndrome. I've seen plenty of gardens that look so incredibly neat without a weed to be seen. Just veggie plants and plenty of bare earth. I really don't like seeing bare earth exposed to the sun and drying wind. Soil organisms and worms don't like it either, which in turn causes your veggies to be affected. While I wouldn't advocate a dense weed population, low growing weeds are a better option than bare soil. Especially if the weeds are not the type to adversely affect your veggies. Purslane is a good weed. So is plantain, oxalis, dandelion. Most ground hugging weeds don't bother the veggies much, help protect the soil, help with humidity and pests. Problem weeds for me would be vining things, tall growing things, and most grasses. My veggies don't like those. 

... Mulch to eliminate weeds. That's ok in my book. I'm an advocate of mulch, so if it's a way of being  weedless, I have no issue with it. I use mulches for soil health, with weed control being a side benefit. 

... Weeds bring bugs. Gardeners often notice that certain weeds are associated with bugs, so they are quick to eliminate all weeds. The assumption is that no weeds = no bugs. Wrong. Actually I like certain particular weeds around because they can be good bug indicators. Certain bugs tend to show up first on certain weeds. Example, whitefly. They always seem to show up on my nasturtiums first before the veggies. Thus I leave some nasturtium weeds growing near or in the gardens. 
    Some weeds actually attract "good bugs", those that attack or eat the nasty bugs. I don't have a list of those weeds with me, but you could goggle it. I'm aware that there are predatory wasps that are attracted by milkweed. And flowering weeds, especially dandelion, attract bees. Yes, that's good. Bees are pollinators. And just the opposite of attraction, some weeds repel or deter bad bugs. 
    Certain weeds can be used as trap crops. For example, nasturtiums tend to attract black aphids. When there is a breakout of these aphids, I can opt to spray the aphids with soapy solution to kill them. Same for whitefly. Thus I can protect the garden veggies from a major bug attack. 

... Disease spreaders. I haven't found that to be the case, but I do notice that certain weeds are great disease indicators. I'll sometimes spy things like powdery mildew on some weeds before the veggies, thus giving me a heads-up to watch my veggies closely. Same for rust, another fungal disease. Weeds don't cause these diseases. It's just that they succumbed to them first. 

Not all weeds are welcome in my garden that's for sure. Too many weeds can choke out my veggies, leaving them no space to grow. Tall weeds could block out the sun. Aggressive weeds could hog the soil moisture and nutrients. Vining weeds could cover or bind the veggies. Spiny weeds could make working in the garden painful. So not all weeds are good. But a few weeds here and there don't bother me or send me into a nervous tither. As I've said, some I find useful. 

Useful? Oh yes, some are even edible! Purslane is one that I will leave to grow when I come upon it. And all of them are useful when pulled or wacked then added to the mulch or compost. 

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