Margaret Lauterbach

Save yourself some work in your garden and with your lawn this year

Don’t count on mulch to stop weed growth; they might just grow right through it.
Don’t count on mulch to stop weed growth; they might just grow right through it. TNS

As we enter this new gardening season, there are a few things to remember. Of course you can ignore these suggestions, since you are the boss in your own garden, but if you follow my suggestions, it will mean less tedious work and more fun for you.

First of all, scrape off emerging weeds early, when they’re tiny. Deprived of even primary leaves, the seedlings will die. Scraping with a Hula hoe or similar tool is easy when weeds are tiny, but it’s a lot of work when they grow large enough to grip the soil.

Do not depend on added soil, compost or mulch to smother weeds. Any of the three will just make those weeds more difficult to remove. Even scraping off leaves won’t kill established perennial weeds, so resign yourself to manually digging those out. Unless you remove all weeds before you lay mulch, you’ll have to pull or dig them later, through the mulch. With mulch in place, hoeing won’t work to remove weeds.

In some parts of the Valley, perennial weeds are likely to be white top; in other parts, the predominant weed is mallow (buttonweed), sowthistle or quackgrass. Insect numbers and weed varieties are surprisingly different in different parts of the Valley. In the Foothills, everything is different again. Incidentally some sowthistle is perennial, the spiny sowthistles are annuals. Some weeds are relentless. I’ve even seen a dandelion shove through a freshly-paved driveway and happily bloom in the midst of blackness. Quackgrass will take over the world, if we let it.

Sometimes you do something in your garden for one reason, and serendipity visits, yielding a happy surprise. Last fall I covered my raised tomato beds thickly with fallen leaves to protect the soil from compaction and to feed it the decaying leaves. A week ago, I pulled a small clump of quackgrass out of that mulch, and it came with a long white runner, ready to produce several more clumps of quackgrass. Hah! Prevented those.

Pulling it had been easy, since apparently it was growing only in the mulch. In less than an hour I’d pulled all of the quackgrass from about 40 lineal feet of beds, some of the clumps coming out with runners over a foot in length. That saved a lot of future work, and brightened the path to quackgrass control in some other beds: I’ll cover more quackgrass-prone beds next fall with leaves.

Some quackgrass did not come up when I pulled, and that was probably the original parent of those that I did remove from the mulch. Those parents are more difficult to remove, even with the brilliant work of the cobra head weeders. The long-handled cobra head, when vigorously raked through the soil a number of times, reveals a network of those white quackgrass runners that infests parts of my backyard. Once revealed, then it’s easy to pull those out, doing a surprisingly good job of helping to control this difficult weed.

I don’t rotate my tomatoes for a number of reasons. The area in which I now have low raised beds for tomatoes is the area and soil I grew them in for decades when I was able-bodied. After I began gardening from an electric scooter, I found that weeding in-ground tomato plants was risky and uncomfortable, so we had that area re-designed with low raised beds. They’re only about 8 inches high, but that made a significant difference. Each of the three strip beds is about 18 inches wide, one about 10 feet long, another about 12 feet, and the third about 18 feet long.

The year I did plant tomato plants in another part of the garden, I lost over half of the plants to various diseases. Then I went back to that tomato end of the garden, where disease-fighting fungi and mycorrhizae-favoring tomato plants have developed. I grow indeterminate (that is, tall-growing) tomato plants in these rows, so leave the homemade cages on them, removing them only temporarily for planting. I also had extra garlic cloves last fall, and although I’d forgotten I planted some between the cages, they’re now vigorously showing themselves.

I have grown a number of determinate (i.e. short) tomato plants on taller raised beds in the garden. They do not need cages or staking.

Nutrition

Over the past several years there have been numerous articles published about declining nutrient levels in foods — even home-grown — blaming new varieties or synthetic fertilizers. Some new studies are putting the blame on the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

A warming Earth allows plants to rapidly turn sunlight into food (carbohydrates), neglecting protein and important nutrients such as minerals. Carbon dioxide levels, already higher than they were in 1950, for example, are expected to rise to 550 parts per million by 2050, double what they were a century ago, according to a recent article in Mother Earth News. The implication here is that we can grow fat, but still starve for important nutrients, “thanks” to increased carbon dioxide in our air.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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