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The Fun Way to Control Weeds

It is unnatural for soil to remain uncovered.  Bare ground is a void that must be filled.  If we neglect to provide cover, then the spot becomes a battleground.  The strongest, the most prolific, the fastest, and the most aggressive nearby plants will struggle to dominate and overrun the empty space.  Usually two weeks is about all it takes to finish the struggle, unless there is something seriously wrong with the soil (vehicle compaction, radioactive contamination, etc.).

I am convinced that for every molecule of heavy clay in the southeast, there is an accompanying weed seed waiting to break dormancy.  Crabgrass, pine trees, sweet gums, and brambles are the most opportunistic, closely followed by Chinese privet and Oxalis. Beautiful natives and ornamentals are rarely motivated to populate even the most favorable environment.  They are too discriminating! 

We can attempt to manipulate the circumstances to suit our own ideas of what the ideal cover should be.  Roundup, pre-emergent herbicides, hand weeding, fertilizer infusions, artificial irrigation, and edging strips are employed to battle the weed invasion…but not always successfully.

Once, in my naïve youth, I resolved to hand weed my garden and avoid using any harmful chemicals in the maintenance regime. I had an older, established (in weeds) lawn, and the weeds were constantly migrating into the plant beds.  After two years of faithful vigilance and dismal results, it finally occurred to me to that a dense, weed-less lawn was the solution to keeping the flower beds much cleaner.  New sod stopped the weeds cold.  Not only that, I was subsequently able to prevent new weeds in the lawn by hand-weeding alone, because the new weed population was a manageable size. The overwhelming presence of healthy grass plants was victorious in the battle for bare ground and it was a deterrent to future weed growth.

Visit beautiful gardens, and you will witness the noticeable lack of weeds in the plant beds.  What else is common to these beautiful gardens (besides a staff of at least 12 horticulturalists) is the complete coverage of ground with healthy plants in all the plant beds. Of course, perfect soil preparation and adequate water helps healthy plants grow. One would think that the excellent growing environment of botanical garden soil would encourage voracious weed growth, but heavy planting of ornamentals in the beds prevents lush weeds. Dominance through ground plane coverage wins the day.

When new plants are being established, savvy professional plant people fill in any available empty space with colorful annuals or heavy mulch.  Over time, the permanent plants mature and fill in most voids.  Any nooks and crannies are also stuffed with small filler plants such as miniature ground covers.  The final effect is one of what looks to be pre-designed genius.  In reality, careful monitoring of any empty spaces and prompt filling of spaces with new plants has denied weeds a home.

You can use the same strategy for all your new plant beds.  Aggressively plant every bare inch of soil. It will pay off in not needing to weed or apply pre, post, or broad-spectrum herbicides later.

More is less (weeds).  An offensive battle plan against weeds should include purchasing or propagating and planting as many plants as the soil can hold.  You can be a both a plant-aholic and save on maintenance worries using this technique.

More is Less