Backyard Gardener: Weed control is important

Hello Mid-Ohio Valley Farmers and Gardeners. Thank goodness that along with the typical August summer heat we have also received some timely rains for our crops. Tomatoes and sweet corn are abundant this season as well as other vegetables. Speaking of sweet corn, many backyard gardeners are preserving sweet corn to enjoy all winter long. It is also available at local farm markets across the valley. The following are a few tips to from Michigan State Extension no matter if you are canning, freezing, or pickling sweet corn. Preserve corn within two to six hours of harvest for best quality. When harvesting from the garden or purchasing corn, make sure the ears are not buggy or damaged. Do not wash corn in the husk before storing. Store the corn in its husk in the refrigerator. Use a separate cutting board for vegetables and keep corn away from raw meat and meat juices to avoid cross-contamination. Always wash your hands before and after handling fresh produce. After removing the husk and silk, wash corn under cool running water before preparing it. Do not use soap. For best quality and nutritive value, preserve no more than your family can consume in 12 month period.

This week I want to discuss controlling the enemies of all gardeners and farmers, weeds. Weeds are unwanted plants in gardens, crop fields, pastures and lawns that reduce available moisture, nutrients, sunlight and growing space for the plants we want to grow. August is a good time to get weeds under control before they produce seeds. However, this is easier said than done. Weeds can reduce crop growth, quality and yield as well as making harvest difficult. In addition, weeds also provide cover for diseases, insects and animals. Garden weeds are hard to control because they grow rapidly, can produce an abundant number of seeds, and spread aggressively by vegetative structures.

There are several methods which should be used in a combined, coordinated effort to control weeds. They include cultural, mechanical and chemical methods. Cultural and mechanical methods include disking, cultivating, hoeing, hand pulling, and mulching. Chemical control is the use of herbicides. Generally, cultural weed control provides good results, but in certain instances herbicides have distinct advantages.

Mulches can be used to prevent weed germination and growth, and ultimately reduce time and labor required to remove weeds. There are two types of mulches, organic and inorganic. Organic mulches are derived from plant material and decompose naturally in the soil, and inorganic mulches which do not decompose and therefore must be removed from the soil after serving to increase soil moisture retention, to enhance soil warming, and to reduce weeds.

Organic mulch is your best friend when it comes to weed control. Not only do mulches control weeds, they also prevent the evaporation of moisture in the soil and keep the soil cool. This can help maintain uniform soil moisture, which results in better quality fruits and prevents some plant health problems, such as blossom end rot in tomatoes. As it breaks down, mulch adds organic matter to the soil, improving soil structure, and creating a better growing environment for garden plants, too. Maintain a two to three inch layer of organic mulch, such as newspaper, chopped leaves, pine needles, wood chips, shredded hardwood, or herbicide-free grass clippings, in all planting beds, throughout the summer.

Black plastic is the most frequently used inorganic mulch. Clear plastic is not recommended because it does not exclude the light that weed seeds need to germinate. Gardeners should make sure there is adequate moisture in the soil before any mulch is applied, especially plastic films. It is also necessary to apply most of the fertilizer required by the plants before the plastic is installed. There are also several durable weed fabrics that are very effective in weed suppression. They are capable of lasting up to 20 years or more when covered with soil.

Any experienced gardeners will tell you the best time to control weeds is when they are small. However, life happens and sometimes weeds get out of hand. Still, they need to be taken care of before they produce seeds whether they are cut, hand pulled, bush hogged, hoed or sprayed with a suitable herbicide. As the saying goes, one year’s seeds, seven year’s weeds. Contact me at the Wood County WVU Extension Office 304-424-1960 or with questions. Good Luck and Happy Gardening.