University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Keep Ahead of the Weeds!

May 14, 1998

With warmer temperatures and adequate rain this spring, yard and garden plantings have been progressing ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, weeds are also enjoying good growing conditions. Act now to stay ahead of the weeds, or landscape beds and gardens may soon be taken over!

Probably the most effective way to get rid of weeds is to pull them out by hand, roots and all. Depending on how many exist and how big the area is, this may or may not be realistic. Frequent cultivation of garden soils can also be effective; cultivate as shallow as possible to avoid bringing up more weeds and to prevent damaging root systems of plants. For these methods to work, gardeners must be very persistent to stay ahead of the weeds.

What about spraying the weeds? There are a variety of herbicides (weed killers) available, depending on the type of weed and where it is growing. There are preemergence herbicides, applied to the soil to kill weed seeds as they germinate. Trifluralin (Preen, Treflan) is an example of a product available for gardens and landscape beds.

There are also postemergence herbicides for direct application to existing weeds. Glyphosate (Roundup, Kleenup, Kleeraway) is an example of a nonselective postemergence herbicide, meaning it can harm or kill any green vegetation it is applied to. Be careful where you use it. There are also selective postemergence herbicides that may, for example, be applied to control broadleaf weeds growing in a lawn.

Before using any herbicide, make sure it is labeled for the type of planting the weeds are growing in. For example, only use products labeled for vegetable gardens for weed problems in vegetables. If a product is labeled for a particular weed in a lawn, don’t use it on that same weed in a vegetable garden or landscape bed unless the label indicates it can be done. Also, make sure the herbicide will control the types of weeds in question. Read the label.

Finally, mulching is an excellent way to prevent weeds. Organic materials (straw, hay, crushed corncobs, grass clippings, compost, leafmold, or shredded bark) add organic matter to the soil as they decompose. Black plastic (polyethylene film) works well on warm loving crops such as tomatoes, eggplant, and melons. Don't use black plastic on perennials, shrubs, or trees, however.

Commercially available fabric mulches are better for ornamental plants, as they allow air and water to pass through them. These are usually covered with bark or another more decorative mulch material.


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