Hartley Magazine

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The jungle in my yard

grass_growing_pavement_cracks_l2How do the weeds get everywhere? They’re in the cracks of the sidewalk, in the potting mix of the containers, even in the greenhouse. They’re thick as a cornfield in my perennial beds. I can weed my heart out, and a week later I have a whole new jungle.

Weeds are always everywhere, just waiting. A cupful of soil holds thousands of weed seeds, and they can survive for years, until an opportunity presents itself. All they need is sunlight. Every time you dig a hole in the garden, you dig up weed seeds and give them a chance in the sun. If you hoe in the vegetable garden, you dig up even more. You carry seeds into the greenhouse on muddy boots or tools. You may spread them around the garden with the compost. And even if you are meticulously careful, new weed seeds are always arriving on the wind.

Over time, I’ve found that the most effective preventives against weeds are mulch, restraint, and diligence. The mulch keeps weed seeds covered so they don’t get enough sunlight to sprout. The restraint keeps me from using a hoe or digging any more than I have to, to avoid bringing weed seeds in the soil to the surface. The diligence gets me out in the garden regularly to patrol for weeds and keep them under control—at least in theory.

This year, though, my whole weed-fighting system has broken down. The weeds are winning. Partly it’s the weather: We’ve had a lot of warm weather and a lot of rain. The rain doesn’t keep weed seeds from sprouting, but it does keep me out of the garden so I’m not keeping up with the weeding.

More importantly, though, I’ve neglected my mulch layer. Too much sun has reached the ground all spring, and every weed seed I’ve dug up in my planting seems to have sprouted.

But now, June is here and the garden’s planted. It’s time to knuckle down and conquer. First I’ll weed clean, because mulch won’t stop a weed that’s already sprouted. Then I’ll spread composted leaf mulch on the garden beds.

I’ll mulch containers too: Seeds easily settle on the surface of potting mix, and who remembers to check the pots for weeds? For containers, I’ll use a more finely ground mulch, probably shredded wood. I wish I lived in a region where they sell pine needles for mulch; those would be perfect for pots.

If I’d done this in April, I wouldn’t have given so many seeds a head start. But better late than never. Hopefully, this experience is seared in my memory so I’ll remember to tend to my mulch every spring before I start my garden.