Preventative Tactics

Proper planning and use of geo-textile weed "barriers" are the optimal choices for weed control in home gardens. The adage holds true, that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Design your landscape In home gardens, orchards, or berry patches, weed control activities can be minimized with careful selection of weeding methods that are compatible with your needs and the desirable plants. Grouping plants that require similar weed control practices will improve efficiencies. Combine several weed control practices into a year-round weed management program designed to prevent weed growth. The goal of any landscape should be to enhance crop vigor while minimizing weed growth.

Proper landscape or crop management This practice shifts the competitive advantage to favor the crop instead of the weed. Choose a site or improve the area for optimum growth of landscape plants. Buy clean topsoil and nursery plants. Control perennial weeds before planting the landscape. If this is impossible, choose vigorous groundcovers or ornamental plants that compete against weeds or can be treated easily by combining weed management practices. Plant these ornamentals in closely spaced arrangements, and place fertilizer or use drip irrigation. Use drip irrigation and directed fertilizer applications to provide essential nutrients to crops without broadcasting it for use by weeds. Minimize the open space by interplanting short-duration vegetables between crops of longer duration.

Prevent seedling weeds from becoming established Select crops and planting dates that rapidly form a complete canopy to shade weeds. Green beans, cucumbers, and squash are good examples of broadleaf vegetables that provide competitive canopies. Control of perennial seedlings within the first 4 to 6 weeks after emergence, when plants are small and easily removed, will prevent their establishment as perennials. Prevent mature plants from producing seed or viable perennial parts such as new tubers or rhizomes.

Proper disposal of vegetation Although it may seem obvious, many weed problems can arise if grass clippings or household compost are not disposed of in a responsible manner. Weed seeds can be destroyed in a compost bin, but only if it is being managed to ensure proper pH, temperature (at least 160°F for 3 days), oxygen and moisture content, etc. For instance, seeds of speedwell, field bindweed, groundsel, lambsquarters, and other species require 30 days of temperatures above 145°F to become fully sterilized. Unkempt compost piles also can attract rodents and other vertebrates that can disperse weed seeds via their digestive tract.

Mulches are materials that are placed on the soil surface to physically impede weed growth and emergence. Common organic mulches include bark, sawdust, wood chips, and crushed nutshells. Inorganic mulches such as rocks and sand are more expensive and generally used only in commercial landscapes. Plastic, paper and fiber mulches will prevent most weeds and are an excellent choice for long-term weed control, especially around ornamental trees and shrubs

Black plastic laminate effectively blocks weed emergence but also reduces water and air supply to the soil underneath and tends to degrade over time. Geo-textiles, or landscape fabrics, include spunbonded, woven, and laminated plastic fibers. Biodegradable plastic mulches are becoming more available and are a substitute for polyethylene, but are not yet approved for organic production. These provide a physical barrier that limits growth of many annual and perennial weeds while allowing complete drainage and oxygen exchange into the soil. However, sharp underground rhizomes and roots of perennial weeds like quackgrass or yellow nutsedge can penetrate the fabrics (except the laminate). After installation, prevent weed establishment within the mulch by frequent hand-weeding.

On some sites, a vigorous turfgrass or other type of "living mulch" can be managed to suppress weeds. In berries and tree fruits, dwarf turfgrasses can be managed as a living mulch. Turfgrasses reduce weed growth by filling 50% to 66% of the space with a competitive cover while a weed-free strip is maintained within the tree or berry row.