Weeds or wildflowers? Yes, we have all heard the argument. I am not here to go into it. I am here today to share with you some tricks to dealing with what you might consider weeds in your desert garden.
Weeds are the Ultimate Opportunists
Weeds are opportunistic plants. They will pop up wherever and whenever conditions are the least bit favorable. Your yard is going to be more favorable than out in the desert, especially if you ever water your plants, of have some rock mulch for weed seeds to get started in.
Weed seeds are generally tiny and amazingly mobile. The seed are easily spread wind, not to mention dust devils. Water washes them across the desert floor, and many desert weed seeds have ways to cling to animal fur, bird feathers, and even car tires.
But There Is Hope!
Here are my eight tips for keeping your desert garden weed free.
1. Yank ’em young.
Get those tiny little seedlings before they become established. Learn to recognize weeds from wildflowers and pull the weeds out.
2. Stop seeds.
If you didn’t recognize them when they were little, get them before they go to seed. The old gardening adage truthfully warns “One year’s seeding makes seven years weeding.”
As soon as you pull weeds, discard them. Do not make a little pile to pick up later. Weeds are opportunists! If they have any energy at all, they may set seed – even after pulled. Also, many of the plants considered weeds do not require pollination to set seeds.
3. Get the Entire Weed.
Pull the weed all the way out, root and all. Many weeds will regrow if you just break the top part off.
My Grandfather taught me to get deep weeds using a hose and a jet of water. Forcefully spray the water down along the weed root as you dig around with your fingers until you get the whole thing out. This also helps water the plants you want to keep and aerate the soil.
4. Dig it.
You may need a shovel to dig out persistent weeds. Those weed pulling tools with a forked end are also helpful. The idea is to get them out so they can’t spread seed in your garden. And gee, now that you have dug a nice hole …..
5. Pick your day.
Weeding is easy after a rain. The sol is softened and it is easier to get all the roots. Plus the air is so cool and enjoyable then. You could even go out in the rain to weed, just make sure the lightning is safely far away.
6. Mulch with Non-Rock Mulch.
Cover your soil with an organic mulch like wood chips, pine or palo verde needles, grass clippings, the leaves that drop off the plants, or any other biodegradable material. A three to five inch layer will keep sunlight from getting to weed seeds and prevent germination. Place your irrigation emitters beneath thick mulches.
Keep mulch two to three inches away from plant stems to prevent disease problems. If you are concerned about termites, avoid planting near the home, or use a cedar bark mulch near foundations. The oils in cedar are considered an insect deterrent.
7. Plant densely.
Yes, even with a low-water xeriscape. When you plant a tree that you will need to water anyway, carpet the area underneath it with a low-water, shade loving groundcover. The groundcover will help shade the soil, reducing evaporation and shading out weed seeds. The groundcover will also use the shallow water, while the tree will use the water three feet down, growing strong anchoring roots.
There are so many lovely groundcovers to choose from! I made a YouTube video about the difference between mounding and spreading groundcovers. More videos every week. Also – you can sign up for my free Gardening With Soule Newsletter to know the latest gardening news to use!
8. “Weed ’em and Eat.”
Some weeds are edible. Young tumbleweeds taste fine steamed. They are related to spinach. Purslane is a great summer edible – sold in markets in other parts of the world. Wild mustard, peppergrass, pig weed (amaranth) are others considered weeds bu commonly eaten around the world. There’s a great book on this topic and by the above quoted name. I have ways to eat weeds on Savor the Southwest YouTube Channel and on the Savor the Southwest site.
It is a sad fact that many of the plants now considered weeds were brought here by settlers who grew them for greens for humans or livestock. Many of these fast growers are kissing cousins to things we Americans grow in the vegetable garden today – or even buy in the supermarket.
An Ounce of Prevention
When it comes to weeds, nothing is more true than “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Get weeds out of your yard if you have them, but then prevent new ones from starting with the 8 tips I shared here.
Thanks for reading!
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