KC Gardens

Weeding tips: From mulching to Roundup, there’s no best way to control them

The best way to control weeds to stop them from growing in the first place. But that takes a lot of careful hoeing and mulch.
The best way to control weeds to stop them from growing in the first place. But that takes a lot of careful hoeing and mulch. Johnson County K-State Research and Extension

Just hearing the word weeding sounds exhausting.

Whether in your lawn, flower or vegetable bed, weeds are a persistent issue for the gardener. Weeds can survive and grow under the most extreme conditions, competing with our desirable plants for sunlight and nutrients.

Everyone wants an easy fix to get rid of weeds. One way is the commonly available herbicide glyphosate, better known as Roundup.

Many have relied on this product for decades. It’s the go-to remedy — just a simple spray and in a few days, the weeds are dead. No other product effectively controls a wide range of perennial and annual weeds without damaging our desirable plants, as long as it does not come in contact with those plants.

Recent developments questioning glyphosate have some looking for alternatives. This column is not about debating the safety of the product, but to help provide options for controlling weeds.

For those who want to continue to use glyphosate, go right ahead. EPA has deemed it safe to use when following labeled instructions.

For those who want an organic product, you may have a difficult time finding an alternative. Organic options are limited and, at best, may not be as effective, especially on perennial weeds.

The best defense against weeds is to prevent them from growing. In the lawn, a dense, thick stand of grass will inhibit weed growth. Keep in mind that glyphosate is seldom used in grass as it will kill the desirable turf.

Prevention in the vegetable and flower garden is best accomplished by a two- to three-inch layer of mulch. Weed seeds require sunlight for germination. The mulch keeps the weeds in the dark or suffocates those that do germinate.

The best mulch is organic, such as wood chips, grass clippings or shredded leaves as they break down over time, improving the soil.

Unfortunately, mulch needs to be replenished. Hand cultivation and hoeing is an effective way to control weeds. While most of us would prefer not to be on the end of a hoe, the results work. But every time the soil is disturbed, more weed seeds are brought to the surface, see daylight and germinate, thus requiring additional hoeing.

The ideal way to use a hoe for weed control is to skim right under the soil surface, cutting the roots of young weeds. This shallow skimming reduces the chance of more seeds germinating.

The internet is full of home remedies claiming to be organic and as effective as glyphosate. Don’t fall for the hype. These mixes usually containing vinegar, Epsom salt and dish soap. At best they may burn the tender foliage but seldom get the roots. The result is regrowth. Overspray could also damage the foliage of desirable plants.

Weeds are a fact of life. Each of us needs to make our own decisions about what is best in our yards. Each option has its pros and cons.

Someday there may be a magic solution to get rid of all unwanted weeds. Until then, weeding will continue to be a chore for all gardeners.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? You can also email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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