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Organic Herbicides and Weed Control

When managing your home garden, it’s easy to get “lost in the weeds” when starting out. One particular recurring topic is the choice between organic vs. novel (synthetic) herbicides. The most commonly used synthetic herbicide is glyphosate, mostly known by the trade name RoundUp. Synthetic herbicides are generally preferred by large-scale producers for their efficacy and ease of use. Home gardeners, however, are likely to want to incorporate more organic weed removal methods into their practice. Various universities have conducted studies on the efficacy and ease of use of retail organic products, as well as DIY methods using home ingredients such as vinegar and dish soap. The general consensus on these methods appears to be: small-scale application, spraying weeds when young, full coverage of the leaves, and regular scouting and re-application. Of course, there are many other approaches to organic weed control aside from herbicide application. These include: mechanical removal, heat treatment, cover cropping, weed fabric smothering, mulching, and proper soil management. 

Here at Wellfield, we employ many organic control methods that can also be used in the home garden. One of my personal favorites is watching Cody use the propane torch to heat-treat the weeds in the Spring Garden. (I haven’t used it yet myself, but I do get a kick out of seeing it in action.) We also have several wonderful volunteers who take the time to pull or rake weeds each week. Care is made not to disturb the soil bed too much to bring any new weed seed to the surface. When designing and planning gardens, ground cover is used to deter weeds as well as add aesthetic appeal. We try to make sure any soil added to beds is from relatively clean sources. Keeping plants healthy and vigorous keeps weeds from growing in any weak or dead patches. We also incorporate wood chip mulch into our beds to smother weeds, retain water, and allow them to break down to further build the soil. Regular scouting and maintenance means we are able to keep our weeds to a minimum throughout the season. 

For more information about Organic Herbicides, I recommend checking out university agriculture and extension websites. These contain articles and links to peer-reviewed research. As for now, we’ll continue to gaze out the window and anxiously await the arrival of our first Spring weeds!

Mary Wojcik, Horticulturist

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