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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 June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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