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Downside of a mild winter: Weeds already

Get them out now for an easier spring

Bedstraw against a wall
Bedstraw, a prickly weed hated by pet owners, already has grown quite a bit againstĀ a west-facing wall. But not for long. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

The popular comic Pearls Before Swine last May had a strip that still decorates my refrigerator. In the first panel, Rat (the snarky character) asks Goat (the sensible one) what he's doing. Here's how the rest of it plays out:

Goat: Pulling the weeds in my garden.

Rat: We haven't had to do that at all in our garden this year.

Goat: Oh, yeah? What are you growing?

Rat: Weeds.

The last panel shows Rat talking to another friend, Pig. "No one appreciates my gardening tips," he says.

So ... unless you're like Rat and plan to have a garden of weeds this year, here's my gardening tip: Get them out while they're small.

Our weather has been just nice enough that weed seeds, fed by December's rains, are now sprouting all over. It can be hard to identify weeds without their flowers, but now is when it's easiest to get rid of them.

several types of weeds
A sampler of the types of weeds you may already see in the
garden, including little bittercress (lower left and a small one
top center) and grasses. The carrot-looking plant top left
also is a weed.
Yes, they pop up quickly. Yes, they're a pain, sprouting between rocks and along the fence and through thin spots in the mulch. But let those weeds grow too large and they present a host of problems:

-- They hog water and nutrients that could be going to wanted plants.

-- They harbor pests (insects and rodents) and pathogens that can sneak up on seedlings and transplants.

-- The roots only grow stronger and tougher to eradicate.

-- Allowed to grow and flower, some weeds then spread by underground runners, tubers or rhizomes, or burrs that attach to pets' fur. Others produce allergens.

The UC Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) filmed a great talk on weeds last year with John Roncoroni, a retired UCCE weed science farm adviser. He discusses ways to identify weeds, but also covers the why of controlling weeds, and priorities for tackling them. Here's the link to the YouTube video . (It's about 39 minutes.)

So whether you prefer using a sharp hoe, or a trowel or specialized weeding tool, tackle the weeds now -- before you need a shovel.

Or give up, like Rat, and just grow weeds.


Here are links to some of our previous posts on weeds:

Is this the worst weed in Sacramento? (nutsedge)

Eeek! It's weed season already (5 problem plants to get rid of now)


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Sept. 25

This week's warm break will revive summer crops such as peppers and tomatoes that may still be trying to produce fruit. Pumpkins and winter squash will add weight rapidly.

Be on the lookout for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that may be enjoying this combination of warm air and moist soil.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Plant for fall now. The warm soil will get cool-season veggies and flowers off to a fast start.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with "eyes" about an inch below the soil surface.

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