Keeping the Ground Clear of Weeds

Begin weeding as soon as growth appears. Neglecting the job only leads to more work later on if the weeds are allowed to mature and disperse their seeds. Also, weeds flourish in well-prepared soil and deprive the perennials of both nutrients and moisture. Keep a basket nearby, and drop weeds into it as you remove them. If left on moist soil, many of them will reroot. Add the weeds to the compost pile. Once the ground has been cleared of weeds, a mulch can be applied to deter further growth. Another benefit of a mulch is that it conserves soil moisture during dry spells.

In small beds weeding can be done with a short-handled cultivator. But for larger areas, to eliminate prolonged stooping, a long-handled tool is preferable.

To remove weeds with a standard hoe, cut them off with a chopping motion, drawing the hoe toward you and taking care not to injure any of the desirable plants. The flat side of a Warren hoe is used the same way; the two-pronged side is used for larger weeds.

The scuffle, or Dutch, hoe is pushed backward and forward through the soil, just below the surface, to cut off the weeds.

Cultivators break up the surface soil and uproot weeds at the same time. When such persistent, deeprooted weeds as quack grass are growing around the base of a plant, it may be necessary to dig up the plant, split it apart, and replant it in order to remove weeds in the center of the clump or entangled with the roots.

Loosening the Soil in Established Beds

At the start of the growing season, and again in late autumn, the soil in established beds should be loosened. This is particularly important on heavy or unmulched soil that has become compacted. Loosening allows air and moisture to penetrate to the roots of plants and at the same time eliminates any weed seedlings. A fork can be used, but a long-handled, tined cultivator is ideal.

Supplying Plant Food and Constant Moisture

The health of plants can be maintained or improved, and their growth encouraged, by the application of a complete fertilizer containing the three most important plant nutrients -- nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash -- in varying proportions.

Organic fertilizers are particularly suited to perennials, since the nutrients are released slowly over the full period of growth. In early spring, just as growth becomes apparent and before mulching, apply fertilizer by hand. Avoid letting it come in contact with foliage. Use a complete organic fertilizer with an analysis such as 4-12-4. Always apply fertilizers according to directions.

Between late spring and early summer feed the plants once with a fast-acting liquid foliar spray such as liquid seaweed.

Watering should not be necessary if the bed has been mulched, except during prolonged dry spells. The mulch, which is a layer of organic material over the soil, conserves moisture by reducing evaporation. If watering is needed, the most effective method is to use a watering wand that will direct the water to the soil surface.

Clay soils, which compact under heavy rain, should have their surfaces loosened before watering, feeding, or mulching. A mulch also serves some other worthwhile purposes. It prevents compacting. It improves the quality of both clay and sandy soils. It helps to keep water from spattering the undersides of leaves and thus lessens the spread of soil-borne fungous disease. It helps to suppress weed seedlings. And as the organic materials break down, they add nutrients to the soil.

Apply mulch in late spring after the ground has been weeded but before growth is advanced. In dry weather soak soil before mulching.

It is best to cover the planting bed completely. But if this is not possible, it is better to apply a thick mulch around some plants than to spread it thinly over the whole bed.

The above is an excerpt from the book The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening: Planning - Selection - Propagation - Organic Solutions by Edited by Fern Marshall Bradley and Trevor Cole. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2009 Fern Marshall Bradley and Trevor Cole, editors of The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening: Planning - Selection - Propagation - Organic Solutions

Author's Bio: 

Fern Marshall Bradley, co-editor with Trevor Cole of The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening, is a writer and editor whose favorite topics are gardening and sustainable living. A co-author of Reader's Digest's Vegetable Gardening, she also conceived and edited The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Insect and Disease Control, The Expert's Book of Garden Hints, among others. Bradley is a former gardening books editor for Rodale.

Trevor Cole, co-editor with Fern Marshall Bradley of The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening, was curator of the Dominion Arboretum in Ottawa, Canada, for over 20 years. He was educated in horticultural science at the Royal Botanical Gardens in the U.K. Cole's previous offerings include numerous magazine articles and the books Care-Free Plants and The New Ottawa Gardener.