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Hard work, not magic, may control weeds

By MARY COLLISTER
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 20, 2002

Rose Bogach of Carrollwood recently shared her gardening frustration with me: weeds. She is at her wits' end and looking (as we all are) for some magic potion to kill them. Here are some suggestions, but I have come to believe that weeds will outlast us all!

If you have the opportunity to work in bare ground, you can try a pre-emergent weed killer. There are a few brand names available at your local garden center. They have "pre-emergent" clearly stated on the label. This chemical should be sprinkled on the ground around the plants in your flower bed. Some now include a fertilizer.

There are other chemicals made for your lawn. Many of these weed killers include fertilizer also. Both types stop the weed seeds before they even poke their ugly little cotyledons though the soil. Read the directions carefully, as you should with all yard chemicals. Observe the waiting period before you plant in the treated area.

Once the weeds have made an appearance in your yard, you'll have to bring out the big guns. In planting beds, you can carefully and selectively use Roundup or another herbicide. Just remember that whatever plant materials these nonselective herbicides touch will be killed.

I have found a nonselective herbicide especially helpful with deep-rooted weeds since it not only kills the foliage, but the roots as well.

For the ambitious, pulling or digging weeds from your garden is always an option. This labor-intensive method is also the most environmentally friendly. This is best accomplished by the observant gardener who spends time wandering through their landscape and can pull weeds when they are quite young and not yet fully established. Just a few weeks of weed growth can become overwhelming.

You may also elect to use a weed barrier. It is a knit material especially manufactured to smother weeds. It is usually a dark gray or black. Lay it on the soil around plants, cut a hole where a plant is located and slip the weed barrier into place.

I'm not a huge fan of this because I think you get more runoff when it rains or when you irrigate. Also, I think it increases the soil temperature. I think it's great under a walkway, whether it's stepping stones, gravel or bark mulch. Once you have the material down, cover it with a mulch to hold it down and to make it aesthetically pleasing.

If the weeds are in your grass, look for a weed-and-feed, which is a selective herbicide and a fertilizer in one. St. Augustine grass is very sensitive to chemicals so be sure to read the directions. Not all weed-and-feeds or lawn weed killers are good for this common Florida grass. These chemicals seem to control the broadleaf weeds better than other types of weeds.

Bermuda is a prevalent weed in St. Augustine grass. I know of no chemical that will kill the Bermuda and leave the St. Augustine grass alone. You can very carefully try to spray just the Bermuda with a nonselective herbicide. If you know of anything, please let me know. My husband is tired of digging the Bermuda from our yard.

Unfortunately there is no easy way to get rid of weeds. Just as one area of the landscape looks good, another sprouts a new batch of the little monsters. But enough on weeds. They will be around much longer than we are!

There are other, more enjoyable chores that you can tackle in your garden. It's time to think about which vegetables to plant this fall. If vegetable gardening is new to you, start with just a few and plant them in containers. Plants in containers seem to suffer less from disease and pests. One limiting factor is the need for water. Vegetables in general require more water than other plants in your garden, and when growing in containers daily watering is a must.

Try a few different types of lettuce this fall. In a large pot, plant three or four varieties. Overplant the area and when thinning the young plants, use that in a salad. I prefer loose-leaf varieties, because you just harvest the leaves you need and let the plant keep growing.

Tomatoes are another good crop for a container. Use a good, loose potting soil and try patio varieties. These don't require any supports when growing. Cherry tomatoes tend to mature quicker than the beefsteak types and flourish in containers.

Cucumbers and other vining crops can also grow in pots. Stake them or just let the vines spill over the edge of the pots. Once again, you may want to look for patio varieties, which will thrive in containers.

Start looking in the garden centers now for seeds. This is when the selection will be the best. Grow a few you have had success with in the past, but try a few new varieties also. You may find a new favorite. Part of gardening is experimentation. Give it a try!

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