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Good Gardening: Herbicides

A half-dead weed grows in a crack in concrete.
John Fischer
A half-dead weed grows in a crack in concrete. Boiling hot water can kill weeds like this one.

Weeds are a big problem this time of year - and really, all times of the year. But I control them with herbicides - No, this is not an April Fool’s Joke. Herbicides kill herbs - aka plants, and while chemical herbicides like RoundUp get all the publicity, organic herbicides can be just as effective without the environmental consequences.

The best time tested herbicide for weed control works like this. Grab weed. Pull. Throw onto the compost pile. But hand weeding is a long, slow process. My favorite herbicide is water. Too hot, or not enough are both effective. When we boil corn, the hot water gets poured on our least favorite weed. Drip irrigation allows you to water the plants you like, and deprive the weeds. Don't water them, and they won’t grow - as fast.

Mulch will greatly reduce weed problems. Cardboard can give your plants protection for a whole growing season, while a thick layer of leaves will stifle many weeds until the vegetables can out compete them.
There are Organic spray on herbicides - vinegar and clove oil are often the active ingredients. And if you must use chemical products, always follow the directions, and just dab the herbicide onto the weed with a piece of cloth to minimize unwanted impacts. Weed and feed is always a bad choice. You're putting weed killer where there are no weeds to make your life easier, while causing problems for our friends, the earthworms.

And weeds can be valuable in your garden. This time of year, they help dry the soil, and if you pull them out before they go to seed, you'll never have weeds again - April Fools.

John Fischer is a Master Gardener and Master Recycler and the host of KLCC's Good Gardening and Living Less Unsustainably.