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Organic Gardening 101: Weed Control

Patricia Boudier
Special to The Union
Mulching is a good way to control weeds in an organic garden.
Submitted by Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply |

For additional information about the roadside spraying, see the “My Nevada County” link below.

Nevada County Weed Maintenance Plan:


Information about the active ingredient Glyphosate:



Coming next time: Organic Gardening 101, part 4 “Organic Pest Control.” In my last two articles I covered the importance of healthy soils and how to fertilize organically. If you missed those articles you can read them online at:

https://www.theunion.com/entertainment/16666768-113/patricia-boudier-organic-garden-101 and https://www.theunion.com/entertainment/16870115-113/organic-gardening-101-part-2

There are many ways to control weeds organically, without the use of synthetic chemicals and controversial products. Let’s start by ways to inhibit weeds from germinating.

There is a product derived from corn gluten meal, which you can work into your soil. The label of one popular brand states, “Corn Weed Blocker is a pre-emergent weed suppressant that inhibits weed seeds from germinating in established lawns, vegetable gardens, and flower beds.” Also, it doubles as a slow release fertilizer due to its high Nitrogen content.

Mulching is a fantastic way to prevent weeds from sprouting. There are many, types of mulch. You can try everything from wood chips or shavings to leaves and pine needles.

You can purchase mulches that are made from coconut husks or cocoa bean shells (those smell yummy). Biodegradable mulches like bark, straw and grass are perfect for more ornamental areas.

The coarser the material, the deeper the mulch should be. For fine materials like straw, they should be piled 3-inches thick, and closer to 6 inches high for something like bark to effectively block weed growth. These mulches lower soil temperature and shouldn’t touch the trunks of tree sand shrubs as this can allow the transmission of plant diseases.

You can also buy biodegradable mulching paper or heavy duty mulching reusable plastic. There is red mulching film, which is ideal for strawberries and tomatoes since it actually boosts their fruiting productivity. Films, fabrics and papers deny the weeds light and raise the soil temperature.

So what do you do if you already have weeds?

Weed flamers are an excellent chemical free choice. Flaming describes the process of high temperatures from a propane burner to burst plants’ cell walls. (Plants will quickly dry out and die when their cell wall is destroyed.)

A simple way to tell if a weed will die after flaming is to briefly let the weed cool and press your thumb to the leaf; the treatment succeeded if your thumb leaves a print or smudge.

Although flaming can destroy weeds, it won’t adequately control perennial plants, grasses, or portions of the plant that aren’t above ground. Flaming can also be dangerous to the operator and desirable plants, so never burn around the base of desired plants; don’t apply flame to landscape fabric, mulch, or any other flammable material; be cautious around irrigation systems; and be careful not to melt any plastic or rubber portions of a hose.

This is a great way to destroy smaller weeds before they get a foothold. I have a flamer with a squeeze valve that offers quite a lot of control and that allows me to zip through my weeding. This is an option for early spring when the risk of fire is minimal and the weeds are small. Make sure to keep some water nearby just in case.

There are organic herbicides as well. Most of these contain active ingredients like vinegar, citric acid, or clove oil. They get rid of broadleaf weeds and grasses, and often smell like cinnamon. You want to read the label carefully, and follow directions exactly.

These herbicides are nonselective and nonsystemic so they might kill any plant they touch.

Another safe form of weed control method is mechanical. This is a very effective way to control weeds, especially if you are diligent about getting weeds before they go to seed.

If you’ve got large weeds, there are mechanical weeder tools like the Fiskars Uproot Weeder, that allows you to quickly and easily pull large weeds without bending or kneeling. It grips the weed so it can easily be deposited in a bucket or wheelbarrow.

If you would like to see some of these weeding options in action, check out our video “Organic Weed Control — Mulch, Corn Gluten Meal, Flamers and More!” Found online at http://www.groworganic.com/organic-gardening/videos/organic-weed-control-mulch-corn-gluten-meal-flamers-and-more

If you have a large section of really tough plants, such as poison oak or wild blackberries, you can use brush clearing companies that use equipment to dig up the plants. You can also hire a company that provides their own goats or sheep to graze the plants down to nothing.

I have a neighbor that hired 150 sheep for a couple of days and all the unwanted tall weeds and grass from the property were gone afterwards.

I have also invited neighborhood teens to weeding parties.

Lots of teens want extra money and by doing it in a group, it can be a great fundraiser for schools and clubs and can teach kids a lot about agriculture and horticulture. Offer up some weeding tools, hoes and gloves, serve some pizzas and lemonade and give them some cash.

Obviously, there are alternatives to synthetic herbicides. I have chosen to use these alternatives because I prefer natural methods. Sometimes, however, these practices get sabotaged by others.

When I first came to Nevada County, I planted a lot of daffodil bulbs at the entrance to our property on McCourtney Road. I was so disappointed when I realized that they were killed by the roadside spraying of a weed killer.

I wasn’t sure what kind of weed killer it was at the time, but soon all the vegetation along the side of the road became brown and died. I was rather concerned and began an investigation. Here is what I found out:

The County Road Maintenance Department will spray a product that contains glyphosate in February, weather permitting. Expect, during the first string of sunny days in February, that the trucks will be spraying the new grass along our county roads.

Many miles of spraying will be done along the main county thoroughfares as well as within subdivisions off of county roads and other “problem areas.” Private roads are not sprayed.

The county will provide free “Do Not Spray” signs if you do not want your property sprayed. To request a sign, call 530-265-1411 and place a service request. The county will install the sign for you and ask you for your agreement to maintain the roadside on your property.

They will also ask for your agreement that if you don’t maintain your roadside, you understand that they will do what is necessary to maintain it for you.

Patricia Boudier is co-owner with her husband, Eric, of Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply. Her weekly educational/“How-To” videos can be found at http://www.groworganic.com.


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