Dealing with Weeds
One of our least favorite tasks in the garden is dealing with weeds. Some refer to it as weeding. We call it indentured servitude. This attitude may have something to do with a bit of practical experience garnered as a child. One of us was employed as chief gardener for an aunt with quite an elaborate flower garden.
While her home would be considered modest by most standards, there was nothing average about her garden. Her garden was her passion. It was surrounded by countless large trees, (most of which were deciduous) plants, ornamental shrubs, decorative hanging baskets, stately hedges, four lush lawns and a “Versailles-like” rose garden.
It goes without saying that a garden of this magnitude required constant care. That meant that three days each week after school, all day Saturday and summer vacation were committed to work in the garden. A days’ work might include mowing, edging, trimming, pruning, fertilizing, raking leaves, watering and, the least favorite task, weeding.
There were always weeds to pull somewhere in the garden. The location which was most prone to weeds was the formal rose garden. The garden consisted of six separate beds each of which contained a dozen or so rose bushes. The beds were symmetrically laid out, surrounded by concrete paths and set off by a multi-teared fountain.
The weeds would become so thick at times that no soil would be visible and frequently the rose bushes would be hidden. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to pull weeds among thorny rose bushes you have a good idea of how unpleasant this can be, especially if you’re doing it in full sun — roses like sun. And, if it’s something that you’ve not experienced, consider yourself lucky.
While one could say that this was a character-building experience for a youngster, some twenty-five years later it is apparent that one of us was working hard instead of working smart. What we didn’t know then was that weeds are not simply an ugly eyesore, they battle plants, shrubs and trees for water and essential nutrients.
Today, there is a cost-effective and environmentally-sound alternative to the “old-fashioned” way of dealing with weeds using a hoe or with bare hands. In fact, it’s a process that professional landscapers have used for years which is making great headway for the weekend gardener. It’s landscape fabric.
Landscape fabric is a barrier designed to prevent the growth of weeds present in the soil. It is produced either by weaving synthetic fibers together at right angles (woven) or by bonding short or continuously spun fibers together through heat bonding, needle-punching, spin bonding or other processes (non-woven).
Most applications entail the fabric being applied directly on top of the soil and then overlaid with ground cover or other decorative coverings such as mulch, bark chips, gravel or stone. Aside from keeping weeds at bay, the fabric helps prevent the decorative covering from deteriorating by keeping them separate from the soil.
Many green-thumbers have tried plastic sheeting only to be disappointed by the results. What many have found is that plastic sheeting tears easily, disintegrates and often results in “sour soil”. This is in sharp contrast to landscape fabrics which “breathe”, allowing air and water to pass through the fabric. This is especially important on hilly areas where, with sheet plastic, water produced by rain or sprinklers can be trapped, washing away decorative mulch or other ornamental coverings.
Landscape fabric is also good for the environment. One of the traditional ways of dealing with weeds that we didn’t note earlier is through the use of potentially hazardous chemical herbicides. Families with small children or pets, now more than ever, are taking steps to limit the use of products around the house and garden which contain toxic chemicals.
For many parts of the country the last decade has been one of drought which has, in many cases, resulted in water rationing. In situations such as this, more often than not, landscaping is the first element to suffer, frequently becoming a wasteland. Although landscape fabric can’t make rain, it can slow down the evaporation process and result in less frequent waterings. This not only saves water, in a drought it can save a garden.
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