This summer’s vegetable garden: Weed ’em and reap

Editor’s note: Get Growing, written by the La Plata County Extension Office’s Master Gardener Program, appears every other week during the growing season. It features timely tips and suggestions for your garden and landscape.

By Jama Crawford

A wise Colorado Master Gardener once said: “The best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.”

How fast do weeds grow? As fast as you can pull them.

A grand procession of weeds takes root all summer long-arising from the seed bank, a vast store of dormant seeds buried in garden soils.

The seed bank will never need a government bailout. Its deposits always exceed withdrawals. Take the dandelion, with 15,000 fluffy seeds per plant.

Curly dock has twice that number and its seeds survive 80 years.

Bindweed produces just 200 seeds, but reproduction is not its tour de force. Through vigorous vegetative growth, a bindweed patch can expand 30 feet in just one season.

Weeds certainly have the upper hand. Because they greatly reduce garden yields, weeds are a call to action for serious gardeners.

Spring tilling brings dormant seeds to the surface where sunlight triggers germination.

You can thwart weed seedlings by minimizing soil disturbances, planting crops densely and applying a 3-inch layer of dry mulch.

Mulch also reduces your irrigation needs, so check the soil underneath for overwatering.

Weed cloth is popular but short-lived, and before long, weeds will establish above the cloth.

Weeds also serve honorably in pathways where they hold the soil and shelter seed-eating insects such as beetles, crickets and ants.

Mow these weeds before they flower or seed.

Herbicides are a last resort.

Herbicide overspray can harm desirable vegetables, and lawn-care products misused in the backyard garden can seriously damage crop production for years to come.

If you choose a herbicide, always read the fine print.

If all else fails, remember “weed” is both a noun and a verb. So get down on your knees. And pull, dig and weed.

Jama Crawford is a 2012 Colorado Master Gardener graduate. She lives in La Plata County.