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5 reasons to eradicate weeds

It's a Sisyphean battle, but don't surrender

Spurge is a scourge, spreading through microscopic seeds, but when small it can be dug out easily, unlike some weeds.

Spurge is a scourge, spreading through microscopic seeds, but when small it can be dug out easily, unlike some weeds. Kathy Morrison

Not everyone hates weeds, I've discovered. Some gardeners have a "live and let live" attitude about the interlopers that shove their way into the garden, squatting next to the dahlias or cozying up to the tomatoes. Some folks even proclaim the beauty of weeds -- those little white flowers of field bindweed, for example. So pretty!

So dastardly, if you ask me. 

Strictly speaking, a weed is any plant that grows where you don't want it. A tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) could be classified as a weed under this definition -- they move in unannounced all the time. 

But most of us have garden-variety weeds to deal with: dandelions, crabgrass, nutsedge and the like. Lately, a variety of spurge has been our biggest problem -- my husband spent several hours digging it out of the front yard this past week so he could mow our small lawn without chopping the weeds into bits. 

Why bother? The weeds ironically did make the lawn look greener. But, ugh, spurge and many other weeds can take over and choke out desirable plants. Which leads me to all the reasons to keep after weeds, as endless as the task may seem:

1) They're thieves. They suck up water, nutrients and sunlight that could be benefitting a garden's intentional plants.

2) They're opportunists. Given a little room to roam or soil to settle in, they develop tap roots, bulblike "nuts" or runners that take off into all corners. And this makes them tougher to remove.

3) They're thugs. Some such as bindweed can climb, envelop and throttle other plants. Others produce burrs that stick to pets or seeds with nasty thorns strong enough to pop a bicycle tire.

4) They can be outright dangerous. Pokeweed, for example, is toxic to humans and livestock -- all parts of it, not just the pretty berries. It's a perennial that produces a massive taproot that will help the plant grow back after winter.

5) They're hiding places for pests. This is why weeds shouldn't be ignored in winter. They can harbor bad bugs that will move into your ornamental or vegetable garden once the weather warms up.

All that said, into every gardener's life some weeds will sprout. It's part of what we get to share complaints about. So be good Earth residents, folks: Don't use broad-spectrum herbicides against those invaders. Mulch your planting beds. Find an excellent weed digging tool and keep at it. It's good exercise, after all.

Note: If you're interested in learning more about weeds, the UC Integrated Pest Management program website (which includes the links above) is invaluable. Also, check out the latest edition of the UCIPM Home and Garden Pest Newsletter. It includes an article "How can weed control help with wildfire preparedness?" Yes -- a sixth reason to keep after weeds: They can dry out in summer and become easy fuel for fires.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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