Weeds – the ‘other plants’

Weeds are both a boon and a curse to gardeners. You may ask what advantage is there in having weeds?

Two aspects immediately spring to mind, weeds are a free source of organic matter for composting and mulching but must be cut and harvested before they set seeds.
The second advantage is a much more complex one which many farmers have a reasonable knowledge of, that is the type of weeds found growing in various areas indicate two important markers, the pH of the soil and the mineral content of the soil in weed growing area.

In the home garden situation each of us have our own batch of weeds that germinate and grow either consistently or only appear at certain times of the year.
Many weeds are easy to deal with if they are removed before they are allowed to set seeds and increase the problem. Others such as oxalis are more difficult to control once they become established.
Grass weeds are likely to be the most prolific weeds we have to deal with in our gardens and any other area that can allow a seed to germinate, such as in cracks in a concrete path.
Our own lawns can produce thousands of grass seeds which carried by wind, water or our own actions will distribute grass seeds to where we do not want a new lawn.
In my book ‘Wally’s Down to Earth Gardening Guide’ I devoted a good sized chapter to the control of weeds in the home garden giving both safe and chemical ways to control the more common plus hard to control weeds.
Regular readers of my weekly column will be aware that I am dead against the use of chemicals in the home garden and I have not used any chemical weed killers for over 10 years.
Prior to that I was a great user of Roundup then having an expensive, state of the art, back pack sprayer unit, solely for weed killing. Every 2-3 months out would come the pack and in would go the Roundup and water to spray every inch of the section that supported weeds. Believing in those times that Glyphosate (The active ingredient in Roundup) was a safe chemical to use and it would break down quickly leaving no prolonged residue in the soil. I began to realise the harmful effects of the chemical when one of my expensive Shar Pei dogs developed skin problems, which turned out to be caused by Glyphosate. (Going into recently sprayed areas).Another aspect also occurred, which after many years of using  Glyphosate in my nurseries and at home, without any protection whatsoever, I was beginning to feel out of sorts for a couple of days after spraying.
In other words my body was developing an allergic reaction to the chemical. I have read that numerous people become faint if they just get a whiff of  Glyphosate being sprayed in the neighbourhood.
If you come to realise that most of the non-organic food you buy will have traces of  Glyphosate, so even without you using  Glyphosate  as a weed killer, your body is likely absorbing this chemical.
If you intend to use any type of chemical spray you should wear all the protective clothing that is available, a full spray suit with respirator leaving no part of your body exposed is best.
OK so you look like you are ready for a trip to the moon but at least you are safer.
It reminds me of a story I was told about a lady that was at a park where her young children were playing.
A fully protected park employee was spraying nearby and being concerned about her children she called out to the man to find out what he was spraying. He replied back, ‘Oh its ok, its quite safe’ Yeah Right!
You always are learning and recently I attended a ‘Farmsafe’ course about agrichemicals. It is a one day course which I would recommend all gardeners to do, as you can learn a lot about safety in chemical handing and use.
You know how we think that spraying a chemical on a calm day is best? Completely wrong as the spray droplets float on the air surrounding the user and with conventional currents, are lifted up, to spread over vast areas. It is far safer to spray when there is a light breeze as you can avoid breeze carried droplets from travelling to non target areas.
A housing over the end of your spray wand is also a safe way to use chemical weed killers to ensure your spray particles hit the target and stay there inside the housing.
One of the big problems with chemical weed killers is the damage that they do to the soil life. Killing beneficial soil populations including worms does not  make for healthy gardens and plants.
If you need to use a chemical weed killer you can reduce this problem by adding Thatch Busta to the chemical spray. It will do three things, Thatch Busta is a food for the beneficials so it counteracts some of the damage the chemical causes, it can make the spray/kill more effective and it will help clean up the dying weeds faster.
Many chemical weed killers have to enter the foliage of the target plant to work and every plant has a natural barrier to some degree to prevent this happening. This is more so on shiny and hairy leafed weeds. By adding Raingard to the spray assists the chemical to penetrate the foliage and results in up to 50% more effective kill.
I explained in my book, how the use of these two natural products added to a chemical weed killer can mean you can use less of the chemical and still obtain the same results. That in itself will be a saving of time and money.
There are many safe ways to control weeds without having to use chemicals.
The first thing to remember is that any weed or plant cannot survive indefinitely without leaves to gather energy from the sun. For instance if you cut off at ground level the leaves of oxalis or convolvulus and continued to do so as soon as new leaves appeared then after a time the bulbs or roots will fail to produce more leaves, having exhausted all its energy. The root or bulb would then naturally rot away. But on the other hand if you dug the ground trying to lift the bulbs or roots you would actually  spread the problem further. Many of you will be aware of this when you tried to dig up and sift out the bulbs of oxalis.
By the way baking soda with Raingard added is ideal way to kill oxalis without harming other non related plants. This spray must be done on a hot sunny day when the ground is on the dry side.
This aspect of a sunny day with drier soil is a key time for any weed control as all plants are in a weakened state at that time. A spray of a cheap cooking oil will dehydrate the foliage of any weeds sprayed in those conditions.
Weeding by hand is an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so outside on a mild day.
If you have a healthy soil it is best to not disturb the soil any more than need be.
For instance if instead of pulling out weeds you cut them off at ground level with a sharp knife and you leave the roots in the ground to feed the soil life as they decompose. You also do not interrupt the webs of beneficial fungi that attach themselves to the weeds and then across to your preferred plants nearby, thus making a free food source for your garden plants. Perennial weeds such as docks need to be sliced below ground with a sharp knife to cut off the crown of the weed.
The foliage of all weeds cut can be left on bare soil as a natural mulch or taken to the compost heap.
Just ensure that the weeds have not been allow to reach seeding stage.
Not using chemical weed sprays anymore and not having sufficient spare time to weed I have solved much of my weed problems by having raised gardens with either weed mat or empty compost bags on the ground to prevent weeds establishing. My back yard has free ranging chooks which never allow a weed to grow. (It used to be a problem when I stopped using chemical weed killers).
Keeping free range chickens may not be every ones cup of tea but if you can provide a small hen house and use netting to keep them in the area you want cleared then you cant go past having a few of these wonderful birds. Any costs of grain fed is offset by wholesome free range eggs.

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