As the rainy days of April begin, gardeners of all types are gearing up for the new planting season. Two major focuses of everyone who cultivates in the springtime are fertilizing and weed control.
Fertilizing is the practice of making sure the soil has all the nutrients needed to provide optimum fertility and production for the growing season of the plant. There are six primary nutrients that plants require. Plants get the first three—carbon, hydrogen and oxygen—from air and water. The other three are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Organic and synthetic fertilizers are the two main types of fertilizer that provide these nutrients. Organic fertilizers include: compost (typically aged over 120 days), raw or composted manure, grass clippings, woodchips and more. Synthetic fertilizers are created in an industrial lab to include the nutrients plants need. Organic fertilizers are made from naturally occurring mineral deposits and organic material, such as bone or plant meal or raw or composted manure. Synthetic fertilizers are made by chemically processing raw materials. Whatever way you choose to feed your plants, spring time is one of the best times to feed them so they can have the nutrients they need to grow and be productive over the summer and fall. Vegetable and flower gardens both benefit from a spring application of plant food.
Once the soil has been fed, weeds often become the next main spring time focus. Weed control is essential for growing healthy, desirable plants that are fruitful. Weeds rob the soil of essential nutrients, can shade seeds from sunlight, and suck up their water, making it difficult for productive plants to grow among the aggressive, nutrient sucking weeds.
There are 3 main ways to control weeds.
1) Block the sunlight
2) Physically remove/destroy them
3) Chemically destroy the weeds and their soil.
Blocking the sunlight is a very effective way to stop all growth in a certain area of your yard so you can choose what grows. Weed barrier can range from black fabric purchased at any hardware store for around $20-$50 depending on how long you want the weed barrier to last and how large the area is to cover, to cardboard or newspaper with woodchips/mulch on top. Blocking the sunlight this way can get rid of even the most difficult plants to weed out, like poison ivy or mint. Physically removing weeds can be done by hand, with tools, or by rototilling the soil and disturbing the roots so all vegetation dies back to give new seeds a chance to sprout first.
Our favorite tool is a flame weeder which is a propane tank on a backpack connected to a long handle tool with a flame at the end to burn the weeds as they show up.
The flame weeder works great for larger areas. All of these methods are very effective, and not to mention a pretty good workout. The last method of using chemicals should only be turned to as a very last resort. The toxic choices (herbicides) should be chosen very last, due to their destructive nature and water solubility (ability to get into our drinking water system via rain water runoff to lakes and streams). Harmless chemical weed killers are considered table salt, vinegar, baking soda and even boiling water. Any of those mentioned ingredients will stop weeds in their tracks when applied. Salt destroys the soil so nothing will be able to grow in that spot again. It is not good to use on grassy areas but works well for driveways and sidewalks. Vinegar can change the Ph of the soil, so don’t use it in any areas you hope to grow in for the season. Boiling water works every time and is also great for driveway and sidewalk use.