Home gardeners look forward to that first ripe tomato or ear of corn they pick from their carefully tended gardens. But after some vigorous gardening on a hot, humid day, you may wonder if it is all worth it.
Weeds compete with crops for water, nutrients and sunlight. Some weeds, like quackgrass, can chemically inhibit vegetable plant growth. Others host insect pests and disease pathogens. All of these result in fewer fresh vegetables for your table.
There are some preventive practices that effectively combat weeds. Frequent hoeing or rototilling on a weekly basis helps eliminate weeds when they are small and easily removed.
If you plant rows a little closer, vegetable crops provide more shade and that also helps to reduce weed pressure. After you harvest a crop, plant another in its place to continue using the space.
Mulching works very well in the home garden. Use organic material such as grass clippings, leaves or straw to eliminate weed growth and build up organic matter to make the soil more fertile and easier to work. Do not use grass clippings from a lawn that was treated recently with a herbicide.
Treated clippings can cause vegetable plant twisting and can even kill some sensitive crops. Be careful about the kind of organic material you use. Hay can introduce a considerable load of weed seeds into your garden.
Black plastic mulch is beneficial to certain vegetables including tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and vine crops. In addition to shading out and eliminating weeds, plastic mulches conserve moisture and promote early crop growth by helping heat up the soil in spring. Landscape fabric has the added advantage of being water permeable and can be used for multiple years; although it is more expensive than black plastic.
Most importantly, do everything possible to keep garden weeds from going to seed. One red root pigweed plant can produce 100,000 seeds that can continue to germinate over the next 15 to 20 years.
For more timely gardening tips, contact the Whitley County Cooperative Extension Service at 549-1430; e-mail DL_CES_WHITLEY@EMAIL.UKY.EDU; or visit the office located at 4275 N. Highway 25W in Goldbug.