Tag Archives: Weeds

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What is a weed?

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What is a weed?

May is planting month – and the beginning of weeding season. Gardeners take the good with the bad. Off we go digging, planting and weeding.

We enjoy weeding, for the first couple of weeks of spring. But their persistence gets to us after a while and we begin looking for short cuts. How can we control weeds with as little commitment to time and effort as possible?

Fortunately, our years of gardening experience have taught me a few things about this.

Here are our top weeding tips:

BE AN EARLY BIRD. The early bird does, indeed, get the weed. Knock a weed down while it is a baby and you have removed future work 10-fold. How is that? The root of a weed gives the top half of the weed life, vigor and speed. Cut a weed off with a sharpened hoe and you remove the ability of the plant to photosynthesize. This either starves the poor darling to death or, at the very least; it pushes the ability of the weed to re-grow backwards for a spell. The secret: Sharpen your hoe with a file each time that you use it. Spray it with a little oil to help it move effortlessly through the soil. And do it early in the season before the root gets too deep. Like now. Tip: for the most effortless weeding use a Mark’s Choice Back Hoe. Home Hardware.

MULCH. The miracle of bark mulch is that it is non-chemical, easy, fun to spread (it smells nice!) and it can eliminate up to 90 per cent of weeds before they become established. The secret is to use at least six cm of shredded cedar or pine bark mulch to prevent most annual weeds from popping through the soil in the first place. The sooner you do this, the better.

BLACK PLASTIC. Place thick (at least six mil) black plastic over your lawn or garden and anchor it with something heavy. Wait for a minimum of six to eight weeks and you will kill just about everything under the plastic membrane. Other than some stubborn hard-to-kill weeds like horse tail or Phragmites (the new imported curse) you are good to go once you have cooked the weeds beneath the plastic. While the process takes time, it is thorough, and no chemicals are involved. This process works best in bright sun.

Weed control does not have to be onerous. In fact, we find some recreation in the activity of hoeing weeds down in the garden and pulling them from the lawn.

Lawn Weeds

The most frequently asked question we hear is, “How do I kill lawn weeds?” And the answer is simple: Compete them out of existence. Here is our fourstep recipe for a thicker, greener and (for the most part) weed-free lawn.

  • Rake the area of thin or tired grass gently using a leaf rake, removing all loose debris and getting grass blades to stand up on end.
  • Spread lawn soil (or triple mix) about three to five cm thick and rake this smooth.
  • Hand-broadcast quality grass seed on the area.
  • Rake this smooth, step on it to bring the seed in firm contact with the soil and water until germination occurs. Keep it damp during hot, dry spells and fertilize with quality, iron-based lawn fertilizer containing slow release nitrogen.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.

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Garden Expert: Gardening Does A 180

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Garden Expert: Gardening Does A 180

Current trends embrace nature for a more eco-conscious world

Not long ago, the typical image of a Canadian garden consisted of a broad sweep of impatiens across the front of the house, a solid mass of unbroken colour that knocked your eyes out. This, framing a manicured, weed-free lawn, trimmed neat and clean.

Back in the day, as recently as 20 years ago, there was a lot of ‘snipping’ going on. And control. Mother Nature was to be tamed, not partnered with. My father was a leader of this pack. Why else, at the age of 14, did he send me out to prune a juniper into the shape of a chicken?

Dad was having fun, of course, and I do not mean to make fun of him.

Things have changed significantly in the Canadian garden in recent years and it is worth noting some of these changes.

Here’s how:

1 BRING ON THE INSECTS. Take tent caterpillars for instance. My Dad would cut a larvae-laden limb out of a crab-apple tree and burn the colony to get rid of it. I am sure this gave him much satisfaction.

A few years ago, I decided to just leave the tent caterpillars alone in my row of 25 crabapples. I observed that many of the trees in the native forest along Hwy 400, between Toronto and North Bay, provide habitat to caterpillars and no one takes them out or burns them. And now I realize that they serve a useful purpose in the natural scheme of things. They are food for many foraging birds including insectivores, many of which are in decline. They need all of the help we can give them, so why not ignore the tent caterpillars and let nature take its course? I decided to do this and it took two years for the birds to discover that I was no longer removing them from tree limbs before they did the job for me. Voilà! Less work for me, better for the birds.

We do not kill insects to the same extent that we once did. Native insects (vs. imported, invasive ones like the Emerald Ash Borer) are part of the natural web. Apart from our general distaste for wasps in our soft drinks and ants in our patio, we are gradually learning to live and let live.

2 KILLING WEEDS. Just a few years ago we pulled milkweed from our gardens. It is a ‘weed,’ after all it is in the name, right? Now we pay good money for milkweed seeds to provide habitat and food for migratory monarch butterflies.

3 ROT AND DECAY ARE OUR FRIENDS. Remember when we blew our fallen leaves into piles and stuffed them into brown paper bags, dragged them to the curb for the municipality to haul them away? In the spring, we drove to a depot to pick up ‘free’ compost or worse, some municipalities offered the compost for sale back to the taxpayers who gave them the raw material in the first place. Back in the day we really weren’t too smart. Now we rake (not blow) the leaves off the lawn and on to the garden.

Over the spring months, those leaves disappear as foraging worms pull them into the soil to convert them into nitrogen-rich earthworm castings. Better for your garden, less work, saves the municipality money. Oh, some of us still do it the old-fashioned way. Okay, this one is a work in progress.

4 WILDLIFE HABITAT. With over 800 species of native Canadian bees, we are indeed blessed with a host of natural pollinators, many of which are in decline. Many are more effective at pollination than honeybees, which are a European import.

Now we provide habitat for our dear wildlife: mason bee houses, insect hotels, toad homes, water features that breed frogs, toads, salamanders, dragon flies and newts.

We are getting much better at this but have a way to go. I predict that we will have as many insect-enhancing devices in our backyards in 20 years as we have bird feeders now. Stay tuned.

I recently asked a friend, who is a father to a 15-year-old boy, what he thought the world will look like a generation from now. He looked at me with a worried frown, “I hate to think.”

And yet, all of the aforementioned changes in our thinking with respect to the Canadian garden are a result of young people speaking up in defence of a new, greener, cleaner world.

And sometimes they don’t speak up.

They just do it.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com

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