Don't let weeds crash your party

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— Garden weeds, I find, are sly little buggers.

My fellow volunteers at the Yampa River Botanic Park have commented often on how closely some weeds resemble the plants they grow closest to. It's like they are disguising themselves in the hopes we'll let them stay at our garden party.

Early in the season before our desirable plants begin to develop mature foliage, look-alike weeds sneak in nearby and begin competing for water, sunlight, nutrients and space. Often, we're hesitant to cull out a weed fearing it is actually a plant we desire in our garden.

But if weeds aren't culled from the garden, they can get out of hand. Besides killing your enthusiasm for gardening, a bedful of weeds can harm the plants you've been nurturing. Keep a record of your plants in their various growing stages so you'll be able to spot an impostor when he tries to sneak into your garden. (I take photographs, but talented gardeners could also make drawings of the foliage from sprout to mature plant.)

Any plant that grows where it shouldn't is considered an unwelcome weed. This means that if seeds from last year's poppies blew into your lily bed, the resulting plant is a weed and should be taken out. Or if your peppermint has snaked into your parsley bed, it's gotta go! It goes without saying that grasses in the border beds or dandelions in the bulb bed detract from the aesthetics as well as the health of the garden.

There are a number of ways to weed your garden: physically, pulling by hand, hoeing, mowing, transplanting or mulching, and chemically, with organic or non-organic herbicides.

Some weeds die simply by chopping off the top of the plant or disturbing the roots with a hoe, tiller or mower. Others can be eliminated only by pulling out the entire plant, down to its deepest roots. This is especially true of thistles, grasses, and dandelions.

If you have a 'volunteer' ( a plant you like that wandered into a part of the garden it doesn't belong), dig it up and transplant it to a desirable location.

Some gardeners have the luxury of putting down plastic mulch before installing their garden plants. This is great help in keeping out weeds. However, wood chips, stone and other mulch materials are also effective in keeping down weeds after you've gone through and removed the initial weed growth in an established garden.

There are a number of herbicides that can be used in gardens to control weeds. Beware, however, that some herbicides can injure your plants, too. So read the label carefully and apply only when and where and in the dosage amounts recommended, and only as often as recommended.

A weed-free garden is a beautiful thing. By removing weeds early before they take over, both you and your plants will enjoy your garden immensely.

Deb Babcock is a Routt County resident and a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail: gardeners@co.routt.co.us.

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