Tag Archive | Weed Control

Shredded Wheat Straw for Vegetable Garden Mulch

by OCMGA Master Gardener Rich Fischer

Shredded Wheat Straw

One of the things I love about master gardeners is that we are always willing to share our experience and knowledge with other gardeners.  While at the last master gardener meeting someone mentioned to me that they bought bags of shredded wheat straw from Ace Hardware on Northland Avenue to use as mulch around their vegetable garden.   So being the curious gardener that I am I had to check it out.   I wish I could give credit to who told me this, but alas old age has affected my memory, or maybe it was too much partying in my wayward youth. 

Bag of shredded wheat straw

She was so right.  This shredded wheat straw is awesome.   Way easier to spread around the tomato plants than any other kind of ground cover.  It easily allows the water to get through and keeps down the weeds.  And at the end of the gardening season no need to rake it up, just let it decompose as an organic soil amendment.      

Like many vegetable growers I have tomato fungal disease carry over from year to year despite my best efforts to rotate the location.  It is either early blight or Septoria leaf spot or both.  The tomato plant leaves turn wilt, turn brown and die from the bottom up.  But we still get enough tomatoes and the fruit is just fine.  Hopefully the shredded wheat straw mulch will prevent soil splash and reduce the blight this year.   I have also been cutting off and disposing  the effected lower leaves at the first sign of wilt in hopes of slowing it down.

I am grateful for the information we gardeners share with one another and hope you find this gardening tip helpful.      

Rich Fischer

Rich’s tomatoes before and after applying the mulch:

Another New Weed!

Gesnouinia_arborea_(Tree_Pellitory)_seedlings.Thanks to OCMGA Master Gardener Mary Learman for discovering this information.

Keep an eye on your garden and your lawn. As though we didn’t have enough weeds and invasives to watch, the University of Illinois Extension warns of Pellitory (Parietaria pensylvanica) appearing in the midwest. Funnily, the leaves remind one of peony plants or, perhaps, dianthus before it blooms. Don’t be fooled, however, as it’s aggressive enough to take on your whole garden and flexible enough to grow out of cracks.

For more information, follow this link to the article published by the University of Illinois Extension.

http://hyg.ipm.illinois.edu/article.php?id=914

 

 

Naturally Weed-Resistant Lawn

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Back Yard Vinyl Fence Outside Grass Lawn NatureEveryone wants the perfect sea of smooth green lawn with nary a hint of weed, bare spot, or discolored grass. Alas, easier said than done! However, here are 5 steps that will help create a beautiful and naturally weed-resistant lawn.

  1. Prepare the soil. Though they are seldom thought of that way, expanses of mown grass are actually very intensive gardens. Loose, fertile soil of the right pH is even more important for good lawns than it is for tasty tomatoes or lavishly blooming shrubs.
  2. Invest in the best seed, use enough of it, and plant it at the right time. The first defense against weeks is a turf that is thick enough to prevent them from getting the light they need to sprout and grow. The grass won’t be thick if you’re stingy with either quality of quantity, and it won’t fill in properly unless you give it a proper start.
  3. Think long term. Be sure the seed mixture comprises grasses that will be long lived, such as red fescues and bluegrasses. There should be only a very small amount of rye grass, if there is any at all. Rye grasses grow quickly, helping the lawn to look good fast and preventing the growth of some weeds. But because they are up so quickly, they steal nutrients, water, and light from slower-growing but more durable types. As a result, newly established turf has a lot of rye in it. This is fine for a short while. But even perennial rye dies out within a few years, and when it does it leaves a whole lot of room for weeds to move in. A sprinkling of rye can be used if you are the impatient type. But you’ll have better long-term weed control if you go for the slow stuff and hand-weed for the first year or so while the good grasses are settling in.
  4. Adjust the mower to the season. No matter what height you like your lawn, letting it get a bit shaggy in summer — a good 3 inches tall — will cut down on weeds. The taller gras provides more shade, keeping the grass roots cool and healthy while making it harder for weed seeds to sprout and find the light.
  5. Don’t water if there’s a drought. This may seem counterintuitive, and it isn’t entirely true: if you have an endless supply and can water the lawn thoroughly, by all means go ahead. But if water is limited, you’re much better off letter the lawn go dormant than trying to give it “just enough to stay alive.” Grasses naturally lie low and turn brown during droughts. They aren’t dead — they’re just sleeping. A small amount of water won’t be enough to keep grasses green, but it will keep the lawn green, because the watered weeds will thrive

Organic Weed & Feed

For those of us who become frustrated at the growth of weeds in our lawns when we’re using organic fertilizers, there is one help: corn gluten meal, a by-product of corn milling. It is quite high in nitrogen, which makes it a good fertilizer for grass. And it will prevent weed seeds from growing.

But — there’s always a but — that’s it. Corn gluten kills by drying up the baby sprouts as soon as the seed cracks open. It has no effect on perennial weeds (other than to encourage them) or on annual weeds that are already growing.

Furthermore, it must make good contact with the weed seeds in order to kill them, not a problem on bare soil but a tricky proposition if the grass is reasonably thick. It works best when the soil is warm, by which time many annual weeds have long since been up and about. And it lasts for only about six weeks, so you have to apply it frequently.

All that said, corn gluten is a relatively benign fertilizer, and it can help control annual weeds if you use it faithfully, from spring to fall, for a couple of years. It is nontoxic and, in home-garden quantities, safe for the environment.

Organic “weed and feed” for Lawns

Many gardeners are worried that the products being used to keep that beautiful lawn are, in fact, endangering the environment. With that in mind, then, there is a constant desire to use less damaging chemicals but, at the same time, retain a beautiful lawn. One solution may be corn gluten meal, a by-product of corn milling. It is quite high in nitrogen, which makes it a good fertilizer for grass, and it will prevent weed seeds from growing.

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Corn gluten meal being applied by a broadcast spreader

Corn gluten kills by drying up the baby sprouts as soon as the seed cracks open. However, it has no effect on perennial weeds or on annual weeds that are already growing. Furthermore, it must make good contact with the weed seeds in order to kill them — not a problem on bare soil but a tricky proposition if the grass is thick. It works best when the soil is warm, by which time many annual weeds have long since been up and about. And it lasts for only about six weeks, so you have to apply it regularly.

Corn gluten is a relatively benign fertilizer, and it can help control annual weeds if you use it faithfully, from spring to fall, for a couple of years. It is nontoxic and, in home-garden quantities, safe for the environment.

flexrake-cla329-classic-hand-dandelion-weeder_1508272

One of my favorite hand tools for “popping” those weeds out of the lawn

There is no panacea, however — you cannot go totally organic and control 100% of weeds in your lawn unless you have some handy tools for digging out the weeds. There are a lot of really good hand tools to help you tackle those weeds, though, and maybe a cleaner environment for our kids and grandkids is worth the extra effort.

 

Don’t get rid of those leaves!

NeaveFall2The weather has been beautiful — the weather has been rainy and cold.  Welcome to Spring in Wisconsin! On those days that are beautiful, have you been cleaning out your gardens, lawns, and under your trees?  All of those wonderfully dried leaves are just waiting to be turned into nutritious compost for your gardens. Compost provides the perfect amount of food for every plant — including essential nutrients not found in commercial fertilizers. Raking compost into your turf improves the structure of the soil under your lawn. If you think that plants need chemicals to survive, just look around you!  The woods, plains, and wildflowers sustain themselves without any man-made materials.

It all starts with shredding those leaves! Whole leaves take quite a while to break down on their own, and tend to mat together.  Whole leaves just sit there cold in compost piles.  Not only don’t they help — they can actually prevent the composting process.  Shred them up, though, and you create the perfect compost makings. Remember, though, that shredding decreases the volume by a factor of ten. In other words, 10 bags of whole leaves can be shredded down to the point where they can all fit in one bag.

imagesThere are a multitude of publications that help you with the dynamics of what to use for composting, how to compost, what to add, what not to add, etc.  You can use commercially manufactured compost bins, fenced-in piles, garbage cans studded with drainage holes, or simple black garbage bags — all of these solutions and more work to create quality compost as long as you’re using the right ingredients! My favorite book is Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost, which is written in plain English in a light and humorous style. There’s even a chapter on vermiculture (composting using worms). [Note: for more information on vermiculture, see our previous post here.] Another resource is a pamphlet produced by the UW-Extension Master Composter program, which can be downloaded and printed here.

Dark, nutrient-rich compost

Dark, nutrient-rich compost

Don’t be afraid to start composting — it’s easier than it looks and you can start small. You don’t have to make enough compost for all of your gardens — just set a goal to make enough for your container plants, or for one container! Your lawn and gardens will thank you for the nutrition, and you’ll save the money you would have spent on expensive fertilizers.

Putting Down Roots – Gardening Insights from Wisconsin’s Early Settlers (book review)

by Karen Des Jarlais

371-t1Ever wonder why we plant what we plant and who decided it? Putting Down Roots has some answers. British (called Yankees in this book) German, Norwegian, Irish, Danish, Polish, and Finnish are the Europeans which the author reviews.

You can actually see these recreations of the original gardens at Old World Wisconsin-the largest of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s living history museums. It’s in Waukesha County-576 acres in Eagle. These are historically accurate gardens which complement the settings of a dozen homes from the above ethnic backgrounds. These researched gardens, according to the author, are filled with vegetables, flowers herbs and fruits of varying colors, textures, flavors and fragrances.

Each nationality has its particulars expressed in this book. Common to all are the drawings of tools which are charming in their simplicity and practicality. If you are faced with a distance between your water source and your compost for example, the “garden engine” might solve your aching back, shoulder, or hose problems. It’s kind of like a wheel barrow with a pump. It’s in the Yankee section. We can also thank the Yankees for replacing the scythe and grass sickle with the lawn mower which paved the way for acceptance of the labor intensive lawns which we “enjoy” today.

The German section details much of the German industriousness which we witness as we hear news of the stable German economy. I want to look up “black salsify” or scorzonera to see if we can find it today. They pioneered gardening in rows and separated the kitchen garden from the flowers. They also gave us the wheelhoe, a form of cultivator.

Peruse the Polish section and you discover that rosemary and myrtle were important at weddings. Stovewood construction or incorporating whole logs with concrete is also from the Poles.

The Finns gave us an intricate root cellar idea.

You’ll very much enjoy the photos of the restored homes which have been moved to Old World Wisconsin. The orderliness of the gardens and the lush growth make me want to drift back in a time machine to the late 1800’s. The seed catalogs from that time period and the drawings they contain make this book worth a look for those alone. The appendix is a bunch of tables which highlight the plants each ethnic group planted to eat. Also informative is the section on plants for dyeing. It’s well indexed and there’s a great bibliography for each nationality so that you can learn more.

Here’s the biggest bonus—recipes for each group of settlers! I’m anxious to try the Irish “Boreen Brack” which is a kind of bread.

There’s lots to see and learn in this book. Your library has Putting Down Roots.

I hope you’ll dig it out!

Cut down on that raking!

Such a beautiful time of year with the colorful leaves huddled together in the trees. Unfortunately, they don’t stay on the trees, leaving us with the chore of how to dispose of the leaves. Some people choose to leave them on the ground until spring, which is a wonderful idea for your gardens but can kill the grass on your lawn. Here are some ideas for using the leaves:

  1. When they’re completely dry, rake them into a big pile and have your kids or grandkids P1050466-500x375run and jump into the pile. Remember how much you enjoyed that when you were a kid?! I grew up in the country and we could also burn leaves; I still miss that smell of burning leaves and branches.
  2. Using your lawn mower, mulch the leaves onto your lawn thereby providing a wonderful source of nutrients as the leaves decompose over the winter and spring. Better than buying expensive fertilizer each year!
  3. Gather and mulch the leaves to use in your compost bin or compost pile. You can use whole leaves, but shredded leaves will break down more quickly to provide that ‘black gold’ compost to use in the spring. Note: continue to add your vegetable scraps and egg shells to your compost heap through the winter. You may not be able to turn the pile as often in the winter, but the nutrients will be there as the snow melts into the pile. Never add meat by-products, fats, animal waste, or leaves or stalks from diseased plants.
  4. Remove the leaves from the lawn and put them around your shrubs and perennials in the garden. They’ll help conserve moisture around the plants, and also stabilize the soil temperature to reduce the fluctuations of freeze and thaw that tear plant roots and heave them from the ground. A 2- or 3-inch mulch of autumn leaves will at least partially decay over the winter, releasing vital nutrients and improving soil structure, but be sure to rake away any leftovers in the very early spring before the perennials and bulbs start peeking up. Large piles of whole leaves will provide great insulation, but they can also turn into soggy mats that smother emerging plants.
  5. Finally, if you must, rake the leaves into the street for the municipal removal teams. Note: the city knows what to do with all of that garden and lawn waste they pick up around the city:  they turn it into compost and mulch!

randy_bish_rake_the_leaves_2

Written and posted by Vicki