Weed Woes

By Cynthia Bee, Conservation Garden Park

If you ask any Utahn about their earliest memories of gardening, you’ll most likely hear about weeding.  Weeding when they’d rather be playing with friends. Weeding in the grueling heat of a Utah summer. Weeding because they were naughty, and it was the best way Mom could think to both punish and remove said naughty child from underfoot. (Not that I know this from personal experience or anything.)

A dislike — maybe even active hate — of weeding is one of the most common objections we hear when we teach Utahns about creating more water-efficient landscapes. Most people say they can’t have less lawn because then they’ll just have weeds.

But, what if everything you thought you learned in those heat-stroked hours of your youth wasn’t exactly correct? What if you can have a more interesting and diverse yard without having it steal every Saturday? What if the greatest contributor to your weed problem was not the planting beds themselves, but rather the way you manage them?

Knowing the proper preventive measures makes all the difference. There are some simple ways to reduce weeds in the landscape by relying more on prevention than cure. Follow the steps below and reduce weeds in your landscape by 80% or more: .

Use Mulch

Not just a light skiff of mulch to make the soil look pretty.  We’re talking a heavy, 3-4” blanket of mulch that is deep enough to prevent light from reaching the existing weed seed in the soil. This not only prevents germination, it also makes it easy to pull any weeds that do germinate because it’s light and loose.  Mulch also holds in soil moisture making it available to plant — and stronger plants can outcompete weeds.

Skip the Weed Barrier Fabric

Anyone who’s used weed barrier fabric (which we call landscape fabric) in their planting beds for more than a couple of seasons has figured out that it doesn’t work over time and removing it from planting beds is about the most miserable landscape chore ever. Yes, worse than weeding — way worse.

Avoid Soil Compaction/Disruption

Stepping in planting beds helps create favorable conditions for weed seed to germinate. Use stepping stones or paths as access points in planting beds.

Water with Drip Irrigation

This is the big one: to control weeds, control water! Planting beds need much less water than lawn so if you’re watering those beds the same way you’re watering the lawn, you’re unintentionally cultivating weeds by giving them ideal growing conditions.

Use Herbicides Sparingly

Chemicals should only be used after you’ve applied the preventive methods above — and then only if necessary. Weeds respond to chemicals most readily when they’re actively growing, which means chemicals are much less effective in the heat of summer. So, skip the sprays in summer and opt for hand pulling.

Yes, hand pulling is still a thing — we can’t completely eliminate that particular rite of passage from your childhood — but having fewer weeds to deal with can make it decidedly less painful. To learn more about weed control methods for your landscape, attend our “Utah Weeds and How to Control Them” class on Thursday, May 23 at 7 pm. Register at conservationgardenpark.org/events