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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 Feb. 5

Make the most of sunny days and get winter tasks done:

* This is the last chance to spray fruit trees before they bloom. Treat peach and nectarine trees with copper-based fungicide. Spray apricot trees at bud swell to prevent brown rot. Apply horticultural oil to control scale, mites and aphids on fruit trees soon after a rain. But remember: Oils need at least 24 hours to dry to be effective. Don’t spray during foggy weather or when rain is forecast.

* Feed spring-blooming shrubs and fall-planted perennials with slow-release fertilizer. Feed mature trees and shrubs after spring growth starts.

* Finish pruning roses and deciduous trees.

* Remove aphids from blooming bulbs with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap.

* Fertilize strawberries and asparagus.

* Transplant or direct-seed several flowers, including snapdragon, candytuft, lilies, astilbe, larkspur, Shasta and painted daisies, stocks, bleeding heart and coral bells.

* In the vegetable garden, plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers, and strawberry and rhubarb roots.

* Transplant cabbage and its close cousins – broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts – as well as lettuce (both loose leaf and head).

* Plant artichokes, asparagus and horseradish from root divisions.

* Plant potatoes from tubers and onions from sets (small bulbs). The onions will sprout quickly and can be used as green onions in March.

* From seed, plant beets, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes and turnips.

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