They are every landscaper’s nemesis, every backyard gardener’s mortal enemy. Their very existence, intrusive and even invasive, is one of the main motivators for any outdoor renovation. But no matter what you do, or how much time or money you spend, they always seem to rise from the dead and wreak havoc again, like some machete-wielding serial killer in a cheesy horror flick.
We’re talking about weeds. Check out Clare and Tommy’s backyard in Upper Saddle River, NJ:
Beautiful, right ? Magazine-cover perfect. Beds full of gorgeous plants, not a weed in sight. But (and I hate to break it to you, Clare and Tommy), they’re there. Lurking under the surface, just waiting to spring up one night while you’re sound asleep. Maybe they’ll hide in the shadows at first, hoping you don’t notice as they grow in size, strength, and number. Then, one day while you’re out for a stroll, maybe playing with the kids, perhaps even doing some yardwork, you see something out of the corner of your eye that looks just a bit out of place. And when you look, you know they’re back.
Here are some of the popular ways that people try to weed out weeds.
Landscape fabric: People love this stuff, the long black rolls of porous woven fabric that get put down over bare soil with the promise of suffocating weed growth from underneath. Manufacturers give it a name like WeedBlock, lulling you into thinking that once you spread this over your planting bed, your days of pulling weeds are history. If only it were that simple. Problem is, while landscape fabric generally does do a good job at controlling weeds from growing up through it, it doesn’t stop weeds from germinating in the layer of soil and mulch that sits on top of the fabric. It’s a helpful measure to take when planting a new bed, but it’s no guarantee. Don’t be shocked when your beds eventually looks like Staci Torgerson’s, who describes her own Indian Springs, AL front yard as “desperate:”
If you choose to use a weed barrier, be sure to use real landscape fabric, which allows water and air to pass through. Black plastic sheeting may look similar and be a lot cheaper, but it reflects an ungodly amount of heat and doesn’t let water seep through to the earth below, both of which are bad for the plants you want to keep.
Chemical killers: Anytime you spray or sprinkle a chemical substance around in the landscape, you’re taking a gamble. Some killers are so industrial-strength powerful that they kill everything they touch, so applying them too close to a prized specimen or spraying them during a breeze can have disastrous effects. And if the product you’re putting your hopes on claims that you can carpet-bomb the entire yard, and it’ll target the weeds only while doing no harm to the “good” plants, you have to wonder how effective that weed-killing agent really is. Using a pre-emergent in a new bed can help, but sometimes means you have to wait weeks before you can plant anything in the treated bed, and even then, it won’t be a permanent fix.
Weed-whacking: This is a favorite method for folks who have given up on trying to prevent weeds, and are concerned only with knocking them down once they appear. Using a string trimmer or a pair of hand pruners to keep weeds from being too noticeable can be effective if you’re persistent about it. If the weeds are infesting your lawn, try just cutting them all down to size when you mow. You may find that you don’t care quite as much as long as everything is green and trimmed to one level plane.
Mulch: Those TV gardening shows love to go on about how a good layer of mulch will act as a natural weed suppressant. Maybe that’s true to a certain extent. Weeds will force their way through a concrete sidewalk or paver patio; why would you believe that two inches of mulch (or even gravel) will stop them?
Pulling: This is the technique most of us use. For a weed-free yard, there’s probably no way around just getting out there and spending some quality time on your hands and knees. But it doesn’t have to be one giant weekend weed-a-thon. I make it a point to pull a few every time I walk by a bed. On the way to the mailbox, pull a few weeds. Kicking a ball around with my kids in the yard, pull a few weeds. Manning the grill and waiting for the steaks to come to temperature? Pull a few weeds. Little by little, you’ll notice a change for the better.
The war against weeds may not be one that backyard gardeners will ever really win, but with diligence and a few smart techniques, you can keep them in check and prevent them from taking over your landscape.