Bartlett On Gardening: An Ounce of Prevention

Editor's Note: The Planet is rerunning this inaugural column as an anniversary tribute to its esteemed and honored garden columnist, Ann Bartlett. This was the first one she wrote, dated Aug. 29, 2016, and she has scarcely missed a Saturday since then. For the sake of quaintness, we run it complete with the original Editor's Note introducing Planet readers to the novel concept of a gardening column about gardening. Thanks, Ann, for making The Planet a better rag! rfw

The Planet proudly introduces its newest feature: A gardening column about gardening, by Ann Bartlett. Bob's Little Acre readers are already accustomed to gardening columns about social justice, existential angst and the mating habits of the gardener's brother Frank. Well, this is a gardening column about gardening! That contains actual horticultural information that you can use in your actual garden! Relax. You'll wrap your mind around it sooner or later...

Do you think we need a "weed of the month" award? It seems that no sooner does the gardener get the upper hand on one weed than another takes over the garden. This is not our imagination. Weeds grow as annuals, perennials and biennials, robbing our plants of light, nutrients, water and space. They are carried in by birds, animals and the wind.

Cool-season annual weeds such as chickweed and henbit germinate in autumn, becoming well established by late winter. As temperatures warm, they burst into bloom, producing seeds which lurk through the heat of summer. Late summer is the time to begin controlling them. I've found two methods equally effective. OnDe is to lay down a barrier of newspaper at least four sheets thick and cover that with three to four inches of organic mulch. This deprives the seeds of needed light as well as preventing more seeds from reaching the soil. By spring, the paper has decomposed.

An application of pre-emergent herbicide may be easier in larger areas. Follow manufacturer directions carefully. Apply early enough for it to dissolve into the earth before seeds begin to germinate.

When the cool-season annuals begin to bloom, the perennial weeds are coming back to life. They use stored energy to produce new top growth. Spraying is more effective in autumn when they are storing energy in their roots. Dandelions are a prime example. I have been lulled into thinking I had good results from spring spraying only to have them roar back to life in summer. The indestructible weed dock

Dandelions were introduced to America by European settlers. Not only did they enjoy the flowers in spring, but the entire plant is edible. The leaves can be boiled and used as spring greens. The flowers are used to make wine or tea. The roots can be used to treat heartburn.

This reminds me that a weed is a plant growing in the wrong place. Given the nature of weeds, the gardener is engaged in a constant war. It is one of attrition and containment rather than annihilation.

Native Californian Ann Bartlett never lets a lack of experience with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home.

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