Overwhelmed by Weeds

Overwhelmed by Weeds

Just when you think your battle against weeds is over for the summer, cooler nighttime temperatures and shorter days spark the beginning of a new crop of your least favorite plants.  The question of many homeowners is how did all the weeds get to my landscape?

There are many ways that weeds make it to the landscape. They can be brought in with new soil, mulch, container plants, dropped by birds, delivered on the fur of animals, carried by wind, or on the deck of a lawn mower.  If that is not enough to depress you than also realize that regardless of outside sources of weeds, your landscape already has plenty onsite that you don’t even know about.

The deck of a lawn mower can collect plant debris, including seeds, that are spread through the landscape. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

In the soil, there is a large number of weed seeds ready to germinate when the conditions are just right.   Understanding how your common landscape practices can encourage or discourage the germination of these seeds, can help you begin to manage some weed infestations.

Many of the seeds of common annual weeds are very small.  They require exposure to sunlight in addition to the proper temperatures and moisture to germinate.  Sunlight is critical though and seeds will not germinate without adequate sunlight.  If the small seeds are deep in the soil, you will probably never know they are there.  When you turn soil or disturb soil such as when installing plants, you bring the small seeds close to the surface and closer to light.  They can then be stimulated to germinate.  The next thing you know is that you have an area covered in weed seedlings.

What does this mean for your gardening practices?  Try your best to block sunlight from hitting exposed soil.  You can do this by keeping a healthy turf, free of thinning spaces.  A 2-3 inch layer of mulch in plant beds and vegetable gardens will reduce weed seed germination.  Finally when you are installing plants in an established bed, try not to mix soil with surrounding mulch.  Seeds will easily germinate within the mulch if it becomes mixed with soil.

It is inevitable that your landscape will have some weeds but a few easy gardening practices can reduce some of your weed frustrations.

Reduce 100 Bags of Fall Leaves to Ten

Reduce 100 Bags of Fall Leaves to Ten

Image Credit: Matthew Orwat, UF / IFAS ExtensionBillions of leaves blanket the fall landscape and are bagged by hundreds of homeowners to be placed curbside for local trash pick-up.

Many of these leaves could be easily turned into valuable mulch or compost.

Why do all those fall leaves end up in bags to be discarded?

It’s probably because the homeowner is overwhelmed by the volume. For instance, one resident reported raking more than 100 large bags of leaves from his half-acre property. One large oak tree can contain over 250,000 leaves!

Bagged and discarded leaves could become a quality mulch or could be composted.

Homeowners have tools for reducing 100 bags of leaves to 10 in their own backyards.

Shredding and composting can reduce leaf volume by 90 percent and provides a manageable quantity of valuable mulch and an excellent organic source for composting and converting into rich humus to improve garden soil.

Shredded leaves stay seated better on the landscape than whole leaves. They also do a better job of holding moisture in the soil and don’t mat down like whole leaves.

But how do you shred leaves if you don’t have a costly leaf shredder?

All you need is a lawn mower, a little extra time and a concern for the environment. Just put the leaves on the lawn in rows around three feet wide and two feet deep.

Then, with the lawn mower at the highest wheel setting, run over the pile. If the mower has a bag attachment, collecting shredded leaves is a neat and easy task.

Without a bag, the easiest way to collect them is to put a 9-by-12-foot drop cloth parallel to the row of leaves. Then, by running the mower in one direction so the leaves are discharged onto the cloth, cleanup is easier.

Throw the shredded leaves in the compost pile to cut the volume by another 50 percent.

Shredded leaves will shrink within a week and compost faster than whole leaves.

 

To compost dry leaves, add water, a little garden soil and a cup of garden fertilizer.

 

For more information on gardening and landscaping, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County.

Keep It Covered with Mulch

Keep It Covered with Mulch

Do you have a bare spot that you would like to see go away? How about a problem getting something to grow in a particular area? I’m not talking about that receding hairline or bald spot, I’m talking about your lawns and gardens. Many residents have these problems, whether it is too much shade under our beautiful oaks, that stubborn orange clay, or that hot, dry sand. Often times, the best remedy for these situations is to use mulch. Mulch is a versatile tool in the home landscape that provides many benefits while adding aesthetic beauty.mulch Mark Tanzig photo

Some of the benefits of using mulch in your landscape include retaining soil moisture, reducing the amount of weeds, insulating the soil (keeps it warm during cold months and cool during the warm season), improving soil health through decomposition, and protecting plants from mower and/or trimmer damage. In addition, mulch can help protect the quality of local lakes and streams by reducing soil erosion and stormwater runoff. Therefore, not only can it improve your yard, but it can also help minimize impacts to our precious natural resources.

When purchasing mulch, there are many options available. Local lawn and garden shops offer many different types of mulch based on their origin (type of wood the mulch comes from), texture (shredded vs. nuggets), color, and, of course, cost. When considering these options, here is some information to help you choose:

  • Origin. Cypress mulch comes from the harvesting of natural cypress wetlands and it not recommended by the University of Florida Florida-friendly Landscaping Program. Pine bark mulch is produced from the paper/pulp industry as a marketable byproduct. Pine needle mulch is harvested from pine tree farms as the trees mature to harvestable size.
  • Plant Needs. Pine mulch (either bark or needles) can lower the pH of your soils as it breaks down over time. This is great for acid-loving plants such as azaleas, gardenias, and blueberries, but may affect species that require a high pH.
  • Texture. The coarser the texture, the longer the mulch will last. Finely shredded mulches breakdown quicker than coarse mulches, such as bark nuggets. As the mulch breaks down, it adds organic content to your soil, thus improving soil health.

If you want to save money, you can often contact local tree trimming companies for their hard day’s work. As they trim or remove trees, the smaller material is shredded into mulch and they are often willing to drop it off in your yard instead of paying for its disposal. It is best to allow this freshly shredded mulch to cure for some time before placing it in your garden beds since freshly shredded mulch can temporarily reduce the availability of nitrogen in the soil.

When using free mulch options, be aware that weed seeds may be present.

Be sure to apply the mulch in a two to three inch layer in your landscape beds or around trees and shrubs. It’s not a bad idea to aerate any old mulch already present to prevent matting or compaction. This can be done with a rake or pitchfork.

So cover up that soil to improve the look and fertility of your landscapes and to reduce erosion and stormwater runoff. If you have any questions about mulch, more information is available at the Florida-Friendly Landscaping website: http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu.

 

How Did Those Weeds Get in My Landscape?

How Did Those Weeds Get in My Landscape?

Just when you think your battle against weeds is over for the summer, cooler nighttime temperatures and shorter days spark the beginning of a new crop of your least favorite plants. The question of many homeowners is: how did all the weeds get into my landscape?

There are many ways that weeds make it to the landscape. They can be brought in with new soil, mulch, container plants, dropped by birds, delivered on the fur of animals, carried by wind, or on the deck of a lawn mower. If that is not enough to depress you, then also realize that regardless of outside sources of weeds, your landscape already has plenty onsite that you don’t even know about.

In the soil, there is a large number of weed seeds ready to germinate when the conditions are just right. Understanding how your common landscape practices can encourage or discourage the germination of these seeds, can help you begin to manage some weed infestations.

Many of the seeds of common annual weeds are very small. They require exposure to sunlight in addition to the proper temperatures and moisture to germinate. Sunlight is critical, though, and seeds will not germinate without adequate sunlight. If the small seeds are deep in the soil, you will probably never know they are there. When you turn soil or disturb soil such as when installing plants, you bring the small seeds close to the surface and closer to light. They can then be stimulated to germinate. The next thing you know, you have an area covered in weed seedlings.

As mulch thins, small seeds of weeds are stimulated by sunlight to begin growing.

As mulch thins, small seeds of weeds are stimulated by sunlight to begin growing.

What does this mean for your gardening practices? Try your best to block sunlight from hitting exposed soil. You can do this by keeping a healthy turf, free of thinning spaces. A 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch in plant beds and vegetable gardens will reduce weed seed germination. Finally, when you are installing plants in an established bed, try not to mix soil with surrounding mulch. Seeds will easily germinate within the mulch if it becomes mixed with soil.

It is inevitable that your landscape will have some weeds but a few easy gardening practices can reduce some of your weed frustrations.

For more information:

Gardening Solutions: Weeds and Invasive Plants

Improving Weed Control in Landscape Planting Beds

Leaf Litter: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Work?

Leaf Litter: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Work?

Fallen leaves add much to the landscape. They feed the plants and many insect, retain water, and help stabilize the soil

Fallen leaves add much to the landscape. They feed the plants and many insect, retain water, and help stabilize the soil

For the homeowner who feels the need to rake leaves and pine needles, the task can be something of a minor nuisance. The showers of earth-toned leftovers appear suddenly and at inconvenient times, and their removal is never added to a chore list without dispute.

Disarray aside, these organic remnants provide far more benefits than problems. Their suburban untidiness becomes an insulating blanket which nurtures plants, animals, and insects with time released nutrients for use by the efficient and fortunate in the wild and those of us in civilization.

First and foremost, leaf litter is critical to the water holding capacity of the woodlands. The dried leaves, needles and twigs absorb and shade rainwater from the evaporative effects of the sun and wind.

When heavy rains inundate the soil causing flooding and runoff, it is the leaves that act as part of the natural delaying system to minimize the negative impact on streams, creeks and rivers. The delayed or halted runoff provides time for water to be absorbed by the soil and be filtered by the natural screening capacity of this organic material.

The moisture works in conjunction with native bacteria and fungus to convert the leaf litter into nutrients usable by plants and trees. While not as concentrated as commercial fertilizers, many of the same plant nutrients are present in the decaying leaf litter.

The decomposition is aided by a variety of insects and worms which nest in, eat and overwinter under the debris. The animal activity breaks up and stirs the elements along with inoculating microbes in the matter which speeds nutrient availability to plants and trees during ideal years.

Luckily, the region’s leaf drop is spread over months with the plants and trees responding to the solar cycle and weather. Autumn, winter and spring each bring defoliation of specific trees and plants.

During dry years the bug and bacteria activity slows in accumulated leaf litter, but the naturally occurring fire cycle continues the nutrient recycling under the tree canopies. The easy to burn material aides in controlling insects and plants that can aggressively overpopulate an area if unchecked.

Controlled burns also prevent destructive wildfires which are harmful to all north Florida residents. While these uncontrolled fires do deposit nutrients, they have many negative effects which far outweigh this single benefit.

January’s weather is part of a continuing natural succession which the native plants and trees incorporate to continue the wild beauty so common in the region. The current cold and rain will combine with the leaf drop to produce much growth in the next few months.