Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 18, 2013

PLATEAU GARDENING: Battling weeds when the weather is chilly 

By C. Rae Hozer
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — Last year, weather from January through May encouraged an early start on garden and home landscaping activities. Gardeners who tend to "push" the season had tomato plants in the ground so far in advance of normal, their vines had fruit soon after our county’s typical last frost date when gardeners who tend to "play it safe" were just putting their transplants out. The long season made for good harvests and abundant growth of ornamentals.Record-settingwarm weather in the first quarter of 2012 had a down-side as well—a population explosion among undesirable vegetation. Weeds grew up, spread and produced seeds just like desirable plants. 

In contrast, 2013’s chilly weather and snow at February’s end continued into the first week of March. Uncomfortable conditions kept many Plateau gardeners indoors. However, those venturing out into their yards and gardens to check will probably find cold tolerant weeds blooming now. On my property, I’ve spotted annual winter weeds such as common chickweed, mouse-ear chickweed, purple deadnettle and hairy bitter cress in bloom. There are also cold tolerant perennials like dandelions flowering. Seeds from those weeds develop after the flowers fade, unless the plants are eliminated before then. Control weeds now. Gardeners battling weeds should be aware that tactics for effectively getting rid of weeds during cold and/or rainy weather differ a bit from those recommended in warm weather. 

Weeds compete with good landscape and garden plants for space, sunlight, soil nutrients and moisture. They grow up where they aren’t wanted, spoiling the otherwise neat order of a well designed landscape. What you call a "weed" may not necessarily be a "bad" plant. It might be a fine specimen in another location but one that is unwanted at its current site. Most gardeners label particular plants weeds due to their ability to out-compete desirable plants in flower and vegetable gardens or in lawns and due to superior survival skills which makes getting rid of them difficult. Some are also known to harbor insect pests and plant diseases that can spread to nearby greenery. A major problem with weed seeds is they remain viable for a long time. Given the right conditions they sprout and grow to start weed problems all over again in the future. Those negative characteristics may prompt homeowner questions on weed identity and weed control.

I don’t use a lot of chemical controls around my property. In my small front lawn and in beds around the house, my main deterrent is good old fashioned weed pulling and/or removal with the assist of a sharp implement like a hoe. However when the threat level is high enough, herbicides may be my weed control method of choice. There are both organic and synthetic chemical weed killers available. Identifying the plants you want to target helps when selecting a herbicide. Access the University of Tennessee Extension publication, "PB956 Managing Lawn Weeds: A Guide for Tennessee Homeowners"  online by typing https://utextension.tennessee.edu/washington/Documents/PB956.pdf into your Internet browser or ask for it at your local UT Extension office. The environment surrounding unwanted plants is another factor in choosing a control method. An example-A recurring spring clean up task at my place is removing weeds/unwanted vegetation growing among rocks in walkways around gardens near the house. Heat exposure eliminates those weeds relatively easily. One application option is dousing the weeds with hot water poured from a kettle. See photo. Flame from a propane weed torch will also do the trick. Either way, the weeds die leaving no toxic chemical residue behind.

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Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region.  Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (931-484-6743) for answers to horticulture questions, free publications and how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, MGardenerRae@frontiernet.net.