Know your weeds before you try to get rid of them

I was reading about the pre-emergent for weeds in the lawn. I am wondering if there is something I could use in my vegetable garden. The year before last I didn’t have time for it, then it was totally covered with weeds even before the end of the season. It was cleaned out that fall, rototilled the next spring. I do plan on putting in some compost before rototilling. I tried to keep up with pulling the darn weeds but eventually they won. I am afraid the same thing will happen again.

— Joel

You’re doing the right thing by adding compost to your soil before rototilling the garden. I think it’s a good idea to add a little every year. Over time, you really build up some nice garden soil.

As for your weeds, I guess I’d really like to identify what it is you’re fighting before making a specific recommendation. Knowing the weeds you’re trying to control is absolutely essential before applying a weed killer. It really matters whether the weed is an annual or a perennial; a grass or a broadleaf. Certain herbicides will work on certain weeds but not others. With some you can till the young seedlings to control them, while doing that with other weeds only propagates them. Bring some samples out to the nursery so we can identify them and recommend the best course of treatment.

Pre-emergent herbicides work great on annual plants that die off but come back from seed each year. This type of weed killer kills the seed as it germinates without hurting existing perennial plants. Pre-emergents won’t help you at all with perennial weeds like bindweed. It’s also important that you apply the pre-emergent before you see weed emergence, so you’re too late on most things this spring except maybe spurge and foxtail, which can germinate throughout the summer.

As for using a pre-emergent in a vegetable garden, most of the common ones are not labeled for use with edible plants; they can only be used around ornamental plants. The only ones I have that are labeled for use in the vegetable garden contain an organic product called corn gluten meal. We’ve sold it for a while, and to be honest, we’ve had reports of spotty success. It’s worked well for some people, but hardly at all for others. It’s not a perfect product — in trials it’s reduced weeds by 40 percent to 60 percent — but I guess that’s better than nothing at all. At the very least, it will act as an organic fertilizer — it contains about 10 percent nitrogen.

Instead of using a pre-emergent in the vegetable garden, I usually recommend that people mulch the garden well by putting down a 2- to 3-inch deep layer of organic matter on top of the soil. Not only does this dramatically reduce weed seed germination, it protects and insulates the soil, resulting in less watering and happier and healthier plants. Also, the mulch can be rototilled into the garden at the end of the season to further improve the soil.

 

I want to put in a strawberry bed with different varieties; can I also plant asparagus with the strawberries?

— Nancy

 

You can mix different varieties of strawberries in the same patch, but I’d steer away from planting asparagus there. I think you may run into watering problems down the line.

Strawberries want a regular supply of water, while asparagus does better with a more infrequent soaking. We run into this same problem when people plant rhubarb in their asparagus patch. They go great together in a pie, but they’re not that compatible in the garden. I’d try to find a separate spot for each so you can tailor the watering to the individual needs of the plants.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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