Got Weed ?

Weeds can really discourage people from organic gardening. They might feel there is no quick-fix to the problem in chemical-free farming but if they practice these simple four things, they might never have that weed problem again.

Why are weeds bad?

Some gardeners do like to grow certain types of weed in their empty plots to encourage various organisms and to keep their soil fertile. But this might not be an ideal situation for small urban gardens.

Weeds are little wild plants that self-seed and multiply so fast that the actual plant that you want to grow ends up fighting for root space and food. These plants grow completely wild and become impossible to control if not pulled out from roots before they seed. This results in slow growth or stunted plants. These plants also offer food to pests and animals that are unwanted in the garden. Weeds also become a reason for spreading disease.

Let’s face it. Some weeds are so pretty that you do not want to pull them out. Well, it is completely your own choice. It’s about what suits your garden design aesthetically and practically.

Tomato plants with a layer of dry grass clippings on newspaper

Common Weeds

Weeds in our soil come mainly from animal manure that we use.  Animals eat these weeds all the time and the seeds end up in the manure that, when watered, begins to grow these plants. There are three main types of weeds.

Annual weeds germinate and grow flowers in one growing season. Perennial weeds grow from seeds and keep growing for many seasons. Sometimes they dry out, but only to grow again in the following season. This type is much more difficult to eradicate.

Here are four ways to keep weeds out of your garden:

Good cultivation

When you are growing a small urban garden, you can prepare your soil thoroughly and wait for a couple of weeks before you plant in it. This will encourage weeds to germinate and give you a chance to remove them all before your plants go into the soil.

This method will not remove all seeds because they can stay dormant for years and it is impossible to get rid of them all in big fields. But the problem can be tackled in pots and small gardens.

Later, during the growing season, it is important to be vigilant. Remove the weeds by pulling them from the roots. If you let them flower and go to seed, the problem will get worse when the new sprouts emerge and multiply. Trust me; it will be a nightmare!

Drip irrigation prevents water from reaching unwanted weeds

Use compost

Substituting manure with compost that is made from organic kitchen waste and weed-free garden waste is an ideal thing that you can do. For large-scale gardening, start composting a few months before you want to use it. It does take time and patience to make this change. In the end, it is absolutely worth it: not only because of weeds but also because it can help you create soil that is much more nutritious than the one with manure.

To make your own compost you need to layer brown waste and green waste in equal proportions to create a well-balanced compost. Green waste has all the vegetable and fruit peelings, rotten fruits and vegetables, egg-shells, teabags, green leaves, grass clippings etc. Brown waste contains paper, black-and-white printed newspapers, twigs, branches, brown leaves, sawdust etc.

Mulch it!

Adding layers of material over soil helps it retain moisture and also blocks the sun for other unwanted plants. Mulches are mainly used for other reasons – they support plant growth by keeping the soil warm in winters, reduce water evaporation in summers and greatly assist new growth in spring. In case of growing soft fruits like strawberries, mulching helps in keeping the fruit disease-free and protects from contact with soil.

Besides all these advantages, mulches greatly help in reducing weeds. You can use bark chippings, newspaper, dried bracken, gravel, old carpets, sawdust, sea shells, nut shells or cocoa shells as mulch. People use woven plastic as well, but it’s best to use natural materials!

You can prepare your soil thoroughly and wait for a couple of weeks before you plant in it. This will encourage weeds to germinate and give you a chance to remove them all before your plants go into the soil

Drip irrigation

A very smart way to ditch weeds is to install a drip irrigation system. The idea is so basic: water only where needed. If there is no water for weed seeds, there will be no weeds.

Drip feed systems can be designed and fitted according to need. They work well for pots as well. The tiny openings allow only drops to come out and water close to the plant roots. This automatically keeps the plants’ surroundings dry – and that discourages any weed growth.

In any case, this method of irrigation also saves huge amounts of water.

These are four simple techniques that you can practice in your garden depending on what suits your style and needs. I personally love some wild grasses that emerge in my container garden. I usually take them out carefully and place them in separate containers where I adore them each day.

There is something fascinating about these wild plants that just voluntarily pop out in the garden, even though they are so unwelcome. I understand their purpose and why they have been ‘designed’ to keep resisting and keep growing. They provide food to birds. Bees feed on their nectar. In empty plots where these tiny greens re-grow after rain, it becomes a soothing sight. This undergrowth is so essential for our ecosystem.

But when it comes to urban gardening, we have limited space and we need to make the tough decision of selecting which plants to keep. In my case, it’s a bit of both!

Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. She blogs at cropsinpots.pk. Send in questions about gardening to Zahra@cropsinpots.pk


Originally written for TFT http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/got-weed/

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Zahra Ali Husain is a sustainability educator, freelance writer and an environmentalist. She is also a co-founder of Organic City Pakistan and runs the Green Schools & the Horticulture Therapy programs along with Yasir Husain. Zahra also manages an organic farm.