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GROWING TOGETHER: How you can win the war on weeds

Weeds needn’t diminish gardening enjoyment if we view them as a challenge to be conquered. Michael Vosburg / Forum Forum News Service1 / 4
Don Kinzler, Growing Together gardening columnist2 / 4
Fall is the best time to spray perennial weeds such as thistle. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service3 / 4
Weeds can be conquered with persistence and a plan. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service4 / 4

FARGO — Spending time in the yard and garden is uplifting, making gardening America's number one pastime. The recent National Gardening Survey says 74 percent of households participate in lawn and garden activities.

Even without statistics to back me up, I'll bet 100 percent of those households would enjoy gardening even more, if it weren't for weeds.

Can we win the war on weeds? Yes, but it takes persistence, gumption and a plan, beginning with action this fall and goal-setting for next spring.

General guidelines for weed control

• Develop a can-do frame of mind by considering weed control a challenge to be mastered. With a few seasons of persistent eradicating, the task gets less time-consuming and you'll enjoy vigilant victory.

• Most yards and gardens combine perennial weeds that survive year-to-year from winter-hardy root systems, and annual weeds whose roots don't survive winter, but perpetuate themselves by spreading seed for future seasons. It's important to know which is which, and treat accordingly.

• If you aren't sure of weed types, annual weeds usually pull out easier, roots and all, having only the current growing season to establish. Perennial weeds are more difficult to pull, often leaving a broken root system in place, ready to regrow.

• Perennial weeds pack a one-two punch because parent plants survive winter, plus multiply themselves by underground structures and spreading seed.

• Weeds in the lawn are easier to control than weeds in flowerbeds and vegetable gardens, because herbicide active ingredients like 2,4-D can kill broadleaf weeds without harming grass.

• There isn't a magic weed killer that can be sprayed over the top of flowers, vegetables and berry patches to kill only the weeds. If herbicides are used, they must be "spot-applied," targeting only the weeds, without drifting onto desirable plants.

• Grassy weeds can be eliminated from perennial flowers, gardens and berry patches with products like Ortho's Grass-B-Gon and Bonide's Grass Beater.

• Weed "preventers," like Preen, kill weed seeds as they sprout. They have no effect on weeds that are already growing, and they won't prevent perennial weeds that grow from underground roots and rhizomes, like quackgrass and thistles.

• Perennial weeds are most effectively killed by applying herbicides in September and early October. Apply again next spring to any regrowth.

• Hard-to-kill weeds like quackgrass and thistle have dormant underground buds that spring into action when the rest of the plant is killed. Control takes several seasons of continuous attention.

• Don't let weeds go to seed. They'll spread thousands of seeds that can last in the soil for decades. If you can't remove a weed, at least remove its seedhead.

• When pulling weeds with seedheads, don't leave them laying in place. The seeds can scatter across garden or flowerbed.

• Because weeds can't survive in the dark, covering the ground with enough material to exclude light is very effective, including landscape fabric, mulch, newspaper and cardboard.

• Time-honored hoeing and pulling still works for weed control. Even perennial weeds with vast root systems can be starved by continually hoeing off shoots that reappear and can be weakened if hoed, dug or cultivated in fall.

Because the topic is extensive, we'll continue Part 2 next week, discussing specific weed control ideas for vegetable gardens, flowerbeds and landscape plantings.