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When to weed

I worked hard this spring to get ahead of the weeds in my perennial garden and as of two weeks ago my garden was basically weed free. But I havent gotten the mulch down yet and in the last two days a million weed seeds have sprouted. My earlier efforts were targeted at the perennial weeds including quack grass, ground ivy (AKA creeping Charley) and dandelions. I made a point of digging deep to get as many roots as possible. If I didnt, those weeds would re-sprout in day or two from remaining bits of roots. The weeds popping up now are coming from seeds so their roots havent gotten too deep yet. If I act quickly, removing them should be no problem; all I have to do is scuffle the surface a little bit. But if I wait even just a bit the job will be a lot harder and more disruptive to the desirable plants around them. Mulch discourages weeds from sprouting like this so I plan to have my mulch ready to cover the ground as soon as I clear it of weeds. I like to use grass clippings, rotted sawdust or shredded bark as mulch in my perennial gardens. Volunteers Some of those seedlings popping up arent actually weeds but the volunteers from plants I grew last year. Many annuals and some perennials tend to self sow. Plants such as columbine, poppy, mallow, and Echinacea produce lots of seeds the year before that scatter through the garden and survive the winter. These volunteers sprout the following spring along with the thousands of weed seeds present in any soil. If you want to encourage these volunteers you need to learn to recognize them in their seedling state so you dont weed them out with the others and then you need to thin them out to give them enough room to grow. I have an annual poppy that self sows so well its almost a weed in my garden. If I dont thin it out when it gets an inch or two tall it crowds out my other plants and grows thin and spindly itself. Thinning is difficult for many gardeners to do but you just have to be ruthless. The remaining plants will thrive in response; its definitely worth doing. Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450 and Essex County at 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.

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