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Winter Weeds

This winter’s been a relatively wet one, so it really shouldn’t come as such a big shock when many plants in this region respond to the abundance of water. Even though temperatures have definitely been chilly, they weren’t horribly cold for an extended period. That would have been a detriment to plants, but only the most sensitive ones were damaged.

Weather permitting, soil moisture causes seeds to swell, something they need to do if they’re going to germinate.

I’m hoping the result of all the rain this past fall and winter’ll be an explosion of beautiful flowers in the desert. In other parts of the nation, people drive out to the countryside to see the great foliage displays that happen in the fall. Here in the desert it’s different, of course. We’ll travel to remote areas in the spring to see fabulous profusions of desert flowers. On the rare occasions when it happens, there’s nothing like it.

On the other hand, we can conveniently forget – it’s not only lovely flowers that produce seeds. In many of our yards and gardens, all the additional moisture’s given a big boost to some unwelcome plants. Weeds. They’re opportunists, and they appear in abundance when conditions are right.

It’s disconcerting to see green rosettes popping up, unplanned, all over the yard. In fact, lots of the earliest plants we see in late winter and early spring are winter annuals or biennial weeds. With the abundance of moisture, we’ll be seeing a healthy flush of green.

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Once they show up, we need to get moving. Otherwise, you know they’ll take over.

Pulling and hoeing are the first lines of attack against the invaders, but might not be enough when the infestation’s large, or if the gardener’s not able to keep up with weeding. Not everybody has the time, energy, or flexibility. That’s when herbicides look like welcome tools.

Herbicides are sometimes called “weed killers”. They can be either organic or conventional. Organic doesn’t mean harmless, remember, but they’re generally less hazardous to the environment than some others.

Organic herbicides tend to be the “burn down” variety. That means they kill whatever tissue they land on, but they’re not absorbed. They don’t move within the plant. These’re useful while weeds are still small, early in the infestation. However, they don’t differentiate among types of plants. Take care not to let them drift onto desirable parts of the landscape.

If something’s labeled “weed preventer”, it either stops weed seeds from emerging or it kills very small seedlings. These’re useless once plants have several true leaves.

Where weeds haven’t made their appearance yet, corn gluten meal (not corn meal) is effective. It prevents all seeds from emerging, so don’t spread it where you’re going to plant seeds. It doesn’t affect transplants, though.

Conventional herbicides can be selective or non-selective. If a product claims to kill weeds in lawns, then it doesn’t damage grassy plants, but will attack broadleaved ones, like mustards and thistles. Unfortunately, they can be problems if they land on vegetables, which are usually broadleaf plants.

Some popular herbicides are non-selective. Glyphosate, for instance. The most familiar glyphosate product is RoundUp™ but there’re others.  It’ll damage most plants, unless they’re resistant to it. It’s essential to follow the label exactly to protect gardens from damage if you’re applying one of the non-selective compounds. Also, check how long it’ll last. Some continue to kill for months after application. Good for sidewalks, not gardens.

Don’t spray any herbicide when it’s hot or windy. Protect yourself from the chemical – it may not be dangerous, but people’s sensitivities vary.

Finally, weed and feed products contain herbicides. Don’t use them as fertilizers.

If you have questions on controlling weeds or using herbicides, the Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners have a lot of information to share.

No matter what technique you use – whether it’s pulling or hoeing them up, or applying an organic or conventional herbicide, get a handle on weeds early, before they become garden monsters.

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