Weeds: The nemesis of gardening

After an empowering afternoon of watching Wonder Woman, I faced the ever-present task of weeding my plot. No amount of posturing, sly moves and fierce looks can overpower the destructive power of unwanted plants. They thrive, no matter how many times they are pulled out and eradicated.

Despite my lack of super powers and fabulous hair, I need to face my nemesis. Yes, it is always nice to have a maintained garden plot and to curtail flowers that develop seeds, but if our selected plants are going to succeed, they need the opportunities to gain water and nourishment from the soil. If weeds are left unchecked, they grow taller and surpass plants such as carrots and kale.

Further in the season, the plants we sow will outdistance the weeds. Their root systems will become more developed and better able to grab those soil nutrients and water. They’ll shade out other plants around them, further hindering the weed’s ability to take over.

In early summer, weeds and our preferred plants are well-matched in terms of growth. Weeding provides an advantage or at least maintains a balance in the plot. Ideally, we’d pull out every single unwanted plant and leave only our own, but that is rarely accomplished.

Back in Wisconsin, we would use a hoe to chop down weeds between the rows. It was a quick and efficient way to cover large areas. In my raised beds, I tend to find using a three-pronged fork. I run the fork between the rows to till the soil and then I grab the weeds with my hand.

Once the rows are done, I reach between the plants to pull out individual weeds. I don’t want to overly disturb the soil around the preferred plant, but I want to limit the competition. Roots from both the preferred plant and weed can become entangled. Pulling out one can dislodge the other. If that happens, I free and discard the weed and pile up soil around the plant to re-establish its roots.

Around my potatoes, I take revenge on weeds. As the potato plant grows, I fill in the hole around the plant. This buries the weeds that are growing up on the sides. In other areas that have gaps because they don’t take up much space when they are first planted, but will expand as they mature, I sow fast growing vegetables. Planting radishes in these areas means that weeds don’t get established. I’ll harvest the radishes about the time the Cruciferae family needs space.

Other areas are trickier and there needs to be more hand thinning. Carrots can take up to 14 days to germinate. As they pop out of the ground, they need an open place to begin competing against weeds. Having set rows helps determine the newly emerging vegetables from the weeds. Of all my beds, this is the most intensive weeding that I do.

Some people use mulch to keep weeds down. It can be effective against weeds, but it can also hold water, lowering the soil temperature. A black plastic mat with holes cut out for the vegetables can be useful in keeping the soil warm, while limiting weed growth.

Whatever method you use, remember that now is the time to go and pick those weeds to give your plants the best growing opportunities. However, you might not want to wear your superhero costume as it is an ineffective barrier against those other foes: mosquitos and no-see-ums.

• Corinne Conlon is a freelance writer based out of Juneau. She can be reached at dirtgirlgardening@gmail.com.

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