Weeds are inevitable and take work to be controlled

Published: Sunday, Sept. 2 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Purple loosestrife is often grown as an ornamental but is on the state noxious weed list.

Larry Sagers

Today's holiday is Labor Day. With all due respect to the Labor movement of this country, I have often thought that maybe we have selected the wrong name. How about changing the tag to No Labor Day, Lazy Day or any of several other possibilities?

As a gardener I often look for ways to reduce my labor. Time is always critical and so although I enjoy gardening, I do not always enjoy the time spent or what I call the drudgery of certain garden tasks.

I suspect that at the top of most people's lists of tasks that they would like to eliminate is weeding. Adam and Eve were banned from the Garden of Eden, with this injunction that required a lifetime of labor on their part,

… cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; … (Genesis 3:17-19)

Modern gardeners are not exempt from labor. The thorns and the thistles are still with us. Weeds are inevitable as you garden. Sometimes they are native plants that have the ability to reproduce better than your garden plants, sometimes they are introduced plants with no natural competition, and sometimes they are just nasty plants.

While there are many strategies for controlling weeds, none of them work unless you do. There are many options for controlling weeds and no single option is best for every weed. As fall approaches, evaluate what weeds were most troublesome and effective controls for the future.

Annual weeds are the easiest to control, and in vegetable and flower gardens are controlled by mechanical methods including tilling, cultivation and pulling by hand. While these are labor intensive, it is often the best way to remove them.

Mulches are another labor-saving way to control most annual weeds. Organic mulches including weed-free compost, grass clippings and other plant- or animal-based products are effective weed deterrents when added to weed free-beds covering the soil 3 inches deep.

Inorganic mulches include plastic sheeting, landscape fabric and similar products. Layers of gravel or other materials are also used as mulch. While these are effective in some circumstances, they are not always easy to install and use around all plants.

Perhaps the greatest problems and those requiring the most labor are the deep-rooted, spreading perennial weeds. These pests might well have their photos on the post office wall as they cause so many problems.

Many of these are on the Utah Noxious Weed List. This list contains weeds that are officially designated as noxious for the state by the Commissioner of Agriculture. To view this list, go to www.rules.utah.gov

Herbicides are effective in controlling some of these weeds. Learning how herbicides work and what weeds they control is important so you can select the right product and use it correctly.

Herbicides can be divided on the basis of their mode of action into three different categories.

The first category is the nonselective herbicides. These products kill any plant materials they contact. Some are strictly contact and only burn of the foliage they are sprayed on directly while others are translocated, meaning they move to other parts of the plant.

The most popular of these herbicides is glyphosate, which is sold as Roundup and many other generic names. The advantage of this herbicide is its low toxicity to animals.

Selective weed killers are divided into two categories. One type kills broadleaf weeds while not damaging grasses. These are commonly sold as lawn weed killers. Use these later this fall after temperatures cool to help control field bindweed, dandelions and other lawn weeds.

The other types are selective grass killers that help remove grassy weeds from broadleaf plants. These products are sold under various trade names including Hi-Yield Grass Killer, Fertilome Over-The-Top II Grass Killer and Ortho Grass-B-Gon Garden Grass Killer.

When using any pesticide products. read and follow all label directions. Remember, herbicides are plant killers, not weed killers and they cannot distinguish between which plant you are calling a weed and which one is a favorite flower or vegetable.

Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.

Garden tips

Entries for the Utah State Fair Agriculture and Horticulture Department are due Wednesday, Sept. 5, from noon-6 p.m. with an entry fee of $1. For specific entry information, go to www.utahstatefair.com/agriculture.

For more information on garden weed control go to extension.usu.edu/weedguides/htm. The publications there will help you identify problem weeds and suggestions for their control.

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