CRANBERRY TWP — One of the critical aspects of tending to a flower bed or vegetable garden is keeping weeds out.
There is more to getting this done than simply yanking unwanted plants out of the ground.
Experts recommend several courses of action to keeping gardens healthy and looking well.
Peg Campbell, a Butler County Master Gardener, advises gardeners to get after weeds early in the season.
“Weeds are always a problem and they are always the first plants up in the spring,” she said.
If allowed to grow, weeds can choke out other plants by taking all the nutrients in the soil.
“They're weeds because they're fast growers. They can take over a garden very quickly,” Campbell said.
If a weed has shallow, fibrous roots, it can simply be pulled by hand.
Some weeds, such as dandelions, have deeper tap roots and must be dug up with a hand digging tool. If the whole tap root is not removed, the plant will quickly grow back.
When clearing a garden in early spring, experts recommended putting down a layer of damp newspaper and covering it with mulch so the wind won't blow it away.
Some gardeners use a canvas or plastic cover to deter weed growth, but newspaper is biodegradable and therefore it will dissolve into the soil over the course of the growing season.
Mulch also helps to keep weeds out by creating an additional layer of material they must grow through.
Even with mulch and newspaper, it is recommended to check the garden at least once per week to see if any weeds are popping up.
Campbell does not recommend gardeners to use chemicals on their gardens, especially not if there are any herbs or vegetables planted there. Chemicals are intended to kill or prevent weeds from growing, but trace amounts can get into the roots of the other plants, she said.
The only one that can be OK is a weed-preventing spray made by Preen, which is not as harsh and toxic as others.
Another strategy used by farmers and gardeners alike is to plant ground cover plants. Any soil left bare will attract weeds, so some smaller plants can be used to occupy the space between the larger plants.
“Barren soil is an open invitation for weeds to grow. Large patches of open soil is a bad thing to do,” Campbell said.
Examples of ground cover plants include violets, barren strawberry or pachysandra.