The weather this spring caused gardeners and farmers alike to fall behind with tillage and planting in the fields. It also delayed home gardeners in early spring cleanup and bed preparation. The weather eventually came around, if even briefly, to get the crops and vegetables “in.”
One outcome of this weather pattern has been all the weeds. Skip a couple of weeks of weeding, and we immediately regret that decision. Annual weed seeds have continued to germinate with the right conditions, and perennial weeds have come back strong, even if taken care of earlier by hoeing or pulling what we could.
Weeds by themselves are bad enough – they compete for resources, gardens look messy, and landscape beds covered in all manner of weeds look unkempt. Plus lawn weeds, whether treated or not, do not look good. But, there also are more reasons to hate the weeds.
Calls to the U of I Extension Master Gardener volunteers’ Help Desk have spiked as those little bunny rabbits are growing into full-sized eating machines. All those weeds provide a great hiding place from predators and while there, they consume some or all of our favorite flowers.
When we are doing our best to grow vegetables, weeds contribute towards two more potential problems. Weeds can “host” diseases without showing any symptoms. They are there ready to spread that disease to our vegetables. That issue is helped by the second potential problem – insects. They will vector the diseases by feeding on the weed, then your vegetable plants.
So for more than aesthetic reasons, it is good to have a weed-free bed. Plus, you also benefit from fewer potential weeds next year, since weeds will not be allowed to go to seed and build up the weed seed bank.
What to do now that the weeds are as big as your flowers? If your flowers are perennials, pulling the weeds likely will not disturb the established root systems. Getting the weeds out of the annual flowers takes a bit more finesse. You may have to hoe very shallowly or cut off weeds with clippers close to the flowers instead of pulling so you do not damage the annual flower root system. Same goes for vegetables, unless large and established.
The last bit of advice I can share and have so often when discussing weeds is this: even if you have lost the battle, don’t lose the war. Do not let weeds go to seed!
• Richard Hentschel is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Get more garden and yard updates with This Week in the Garden videos at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos and the Green Side Up podcast at go.illinois.edu/greensideup. The Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk is open from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 630-553-5823.