Best way to beat weeds is to prevent them

Published 12:12 am Saturday, May 15, 2010

Of the 250,000 plant species in the world, more than 1,000 are recognized as weeds.

They can be defined as nuisance or unwanted plants in a human-made setting, garden, agricultural area, park, woodland or other natural site. Some are natives, some not, but all grow and multiply aggressively.

Weeds have been around a long time, as long as man has cultivated plants. They rob nutrients and water from what we want. The two main types of weeds are broadleaf and grasses; a third variety, fernlike, seldom appears in our lawns and gardens.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

So how do we get rid of them?

“Rely on chemicals as a last resort to weed control,” Dr. John Byrd, Extension research professor with the Plant and Soil Sciences Department at Mississippi State told a recent Master Gardener training classes. “Prevention is the first line of defense. Buy clean weed-free container plants. Inspect both the container and the plant so that you are not transplanting new weeds into your garden. Buy only weed free seeds. Clean soil off implements when transplanting and control weeds in natural settings before they move into your flower beds, lawns or vegetable gardens”

Cultural practices can reduce weed problems. Byrd suggested using clean, weed-free mulch in flowerbeds and vegetable gardens. Manage pH, water only as needed and consider how much sun will be available in the area to be planted before choosing the best grass type for your lawn.

Proper mowing is yet another way to prevent weeds. Byrd recommended mowing close early in the season but raising the height as the summer gets hotter and drier and into fall. This helps to protect turf as winter sets in.

Physically remove weeds when they are small and before they set seed.

Don Baxter, a Master Gardener when the program began, once told me that folks have forgotten how to use a hoe. He kept a neat, weed free vegetable garden by using only a hoe for weed control.

Byrd told the class that chemical control revolutionized weed control. Before 1940 when 24D came on the market, table salt was used to control weeds. He suggests chemicals only when other methods are not practical or failed and when hand removal is too expensive or time-consuming for a large area.

There are numerous chemicals that can be used. Some are dry powders, others are liquids or pellets. Byrd stressed the importance of reading and following labels. The website has a good deal of information on what chemical works best for what weed. Some products work with certain weeds but not as well on others. Also, local nursery personnel can guide you.

The website says the most common weeds in home lawns and gardens in our state include crabgrass, yellow and purple nutsedge, morning glories, Bermuda grass and pigweed, but there are lots more that seem to find their way into my lawn and garden. A new resource guide at the Extension office donated by Georgia Antoine helps Master Gardeners assist homeowners with weed identification. “Weeds of the South” was written by research botanist Charles Bryson and Michael DeFelice and features more than 1,500 color photographs of the most troublesome weeds plaguing Southern gardens.

Hundreds of Southern weeds are highlighted with pictures of the seedling, flower and seed in addition to information on plant characteristics, habitat, toxicity, range and any special identifying features.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and Master Flower Show judge, has been active in the Openwood Plantation Garden Club for over 35 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.