If you’re an enthusiastic gardener, you may harbor a passionate hatred of weeds. But as long as you have to face off with them every year anyway, why not let go of your negative feelings and actually feel some gratitude for those weeds? It’s not as impossible as you might think, especially when you know more about weeds and how to control them using green, environmentally friendly, methods.
Weeds are “nature’s first responders,” according to Laureen Rama, author of Eco-Yards: Simple Steps to Earth-Friendly Landscapes. Weeds play an important role in our ecosystem, by colonizing bare soil, preventing soil erosion and preparing the way for other plants to grow. In many cases where soil quality is poor, weeds actually pull minerals up to the surface from deeper in the earth by way of their long roots. And when they die and decay, they release those minerals back into the soil in a form available to other plants. So weeds are actually protectors and healers of your garden.
Despite their kindly role, weeds are usually undesirable to homeowners, and there are a number of environmentally friendly, green, ways to control them. Rama suggests the following:
Bare Areas: Plant or Cover. “Weeds will be the first plants to grow in any bare soil areas,” says Rama. “Covering your bare soil with plants will prevent weeds. Try ground cover plants that spread over a wide area, or cover bare areas with organic mulch, such as wood chips or leaves, to a depth of 4 to 6 inches.”
Minimize Grass. Weeds in lawns are the most challenging to control, so the easiest green weed control technique is to minimize areas of grass to reduce your effort and costs in keeping weeds at bay. “Limit grass to those areas where children or pets play,” Rama advises. “Where you don’t need grass, you can plant trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers.” She also suggests replacing areas of lawn with decks, patios and waterfalls.
Let Your Weeds Speak. When weeds really take root in a given area, there could be a message there. It might mean that the soil ecosystem is out of balance, so there’s an opportunity for you to improve the quality of the soil. “Spreading compost and actively aerated compost teas will help rebalance your soil,” says Rama. “Wood chip mulch on your beds or even really small wood chips on your lawn will also help rebuild fungi in the soil. Fungi hold calcium in the soil and also make it available to plants.”
Spread Corn Gluten. Corn gluten meal comes in tiny granules that you can spread over your yard. It prevents weed seeds from sprouting and is most useful when applied in the spring before weeds germinate. “You can also apply it in the fall for some effect in the spring,” says Rama.
Use Weeds as Fertilizer. Weeds are chock-full of the nutrients your yard needs. Cut off the seed heads and throw those in the trash, then put the weeds in your compost or on top of your beds.
Weeds in Cracks: Use Horticultural Vinegar. For weeds that are well-established between sidewalk cracks, visit your local garden center and purchase “horticultural vinegar”, also known as acetic acid, and pour it over the weeds. For weeds in an earlier stage of growth, ordinary household vinegar mixed with lemon juice is effective.
Weeds aren’t out to get you-they’re really just trying to help. So while you may not want them in your garden or on your lawn, be kind to them and the environment as a whole by using all-natural methods of green weed control. This summer, graduate from a yard to an eco-yard!