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Gardens and their tenders have been subjected to an assortment of weather patterns this spring. We welcomed the warm April after an extremely long, cold winter. Since then the vegetables and flowers we planted so enthusiastically have been subjected to rain, hail, wind and enough other adverse conditions that growth has been less than spectacular.

Tender leaves that have turned white are not afflicted with a dread disease. Rather the bright sun, accompanied at times by high winds, has bleached them. In most instances, the growing points and roots are not damaged. When proper circumstances arrive, they'll resume growth.Frost-touched plants usually show blackened leaves. Unless the whole stem becomes discolored, they too will begin to enlarge as warm weather appears.

You can be sure that one class of plants has not been deterred by these unfavorable growing conditions - weeds! Unless you spend some time thwarting their invasive tendencies while small, gardening can lose some of its glamour amid unwanted growth.

Weeds compete with desirable garden plants for water, soil nutrients, sunlight and air. Many weeds also harbor diseases and insects that may attack the crops you're growing. Weeds have an amazing ability to survive adverse conditions, produce a seed crop and return to haunt you for many years. The final goal of weed control techniques discussed below should be: NEVER LET A WEED PRODUCE SEED. There's an old saying, "One year of seeding means seven years of weeding."

In the vegetable garden, we grow such a diverse selection of crops that chemical weed control usually is not advisable. The crop plants vary in their tolerance to a particular herbicide; therefore, no single herbicide can be used safely where a large number of different crops are grown.

Good seedbed preparation will aid in rapid establishment of the crop plants and will reduce weed competition. The seed bed should be firm and free of clods. Provide good growing conditions so that crop plants emerge quickly and grow rapidly. I place fertilizer in a trench 2 inches below and 2 inches to the side of my seeds. After the 1/3 cup of 16-6-8 per 10 feet of row is put in the bottom of the deep furrow, the shallow furrow is formed at the proper planting depth for the seed I'm planting. When the roots get into the fertilizer zone, plants respond with optimum growth. Fertilizer placed in this manner doesn't promote the weeds between the rows as does broadcast fertilizer.

The planting arrangement can discourage weeds. The more quickly the soil is shaded, the less light weeds get to germinate and grow. A wide bed planting of closely spaced vegetables won't eliminate weeds, but their number will be reduced. Keep in mind that vegetables do need enough room to develop properly but radishes do not have to be planted in 2-foot rows. On the other hand, you'll not get a 2-inch carrot or a 3-inch onion if plants are a half an inch apart. Thinning will be essential.

I use mulches to save a lot of time. Black plastic smothers weeds and heats the soil to improve the performance of warm season crops such as melons and tomatoes. Organic mulches are more versatile and in my opinion can be more aesthetic than plastic. Perhaps grass clippings aren't the most beautiful mulch in the world, but they are abundant and the price is right!

Apply only enough clippings that will dry quickly. A layer that's too thick will turn slimy and smelly. Other organic materials that could be used include sawdust, bark of various sizes, leaves and newspapers. You might want to cover your newspapers with another product to hold them in place, but they are an excellent weed-control material.

Mulching controls weeds by (1) keeping light away from seedlings, and (2) providing a mechanical barrier to emergence. This works well against annual weeds that come up from seed each year. They won't have much of an effect on perennials such as wild morning glory or quack-grass.

Either plastic or organic mulches keep moisture from evaporating so save on the water bill and the labor to apply it. Speaking of water, reduce the weed problems by installing a trickle irrigation system. The application is to the root zone, so much of the soil surface stays dry. Dry soils don't grow weeds very well and you can go about other gardening chores even though the plants are being watered.

Hand-hoeing is the most common method for controlling weeds in home gardens and it can't be beat for effectiveness and safety. My personal favorite is a gliding or scuffle hoe. Weeds don't need to be removed roots and all. Just cut them off below the soil and annual weeds won't regrow.

Do the hoeing as soon as the soil dries after an irrigation. Don't water again for as long as possible so the weeds dehydrate and you don't have to fight them again.

I don't rototill a garden for weed control. In the first place, rows that far apart waste a lot of space. By concentrating plants in a smaller area, the same amount of tending will produce more food. For details we have a 10-cent fact sheet, "Grow More Food in a Small Area."

You don't have to cultivate to encourage root growth. In fact, most rototiller cultivation destroys roots. The two reasons for putting a tool to the soil are to (1) break up a crust so water can enter and (2) kill weeds. With a mulch around the plants these two purposes are attained. You can spend a lot of time doing something better than tending the garden.

Many of these same principles apply to flower beds. Get the weeds when they're small. Visit the garden often and you'll find that weeds are not born knee high! You might check the label and see that garden weed preventers like dacthal, treflan or eptam could be used with the plant you're growing. None of these products work against established weeds, but must be applied before seed germination. Many transplanted ornamentals are tolerant of recommended doses.


June 13 - Vegetables

June 20 - Fruits and berries

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-WATER NEED: Apply 1 1/2 inches of water to lawns and gardens this week.