Column: Fighting the good fight in the garden

Jul. 09, 2014 @ 09:30 AM

Vegetable gardens are going strong. But the weeds are growing well too. If there is bare ground, Mother Nature is going to grow something there. It’s usually a weed.

Weeds don’t belong in a vegetable garden because they take nutrients and water away from garden plants. While weeds are inevitable, there are a few tools you can use to keep weeds from taking over your garden.

Mulch. Mulch prevents weeds from germinating by blocking sunlight and smothers some small weeds that have already sprouted. I like to lay down a few inches of straw on top of newspaper in my garden. It’s more work at the beginning of the season, but I don’t have to weed much later.

Cultivation. Hoeing or tilling in between rows of vegetables is a viable option for controlling weeds that are already up. If relying on this labor-intensive approach, keep well away from the stems of garden plants to avoid damaging their roots.

Herbicides. If you choose to use herbicides in the fight against weeds, be very careful about damaging plants. Herbicides containing glyphosate (Round-Up, for example) can be used around the edge of a garden to keep Bermuda grass and ground ivy from creeping in. Products containing 2,4-D can be used to control non-grassy weeds.

These herbicides are a useful tool when applied correctly. If they are applied when it is too hot and humid, though, they damage garden plants. We see this often, especially on tomato plants, which are particularly sensitive to herbicides. Be sure to read the label of the product you are using to see the best time to apply.

Typical signs of glyphosate damage are a bleached appearance on leaves near the stem. 2,4-D damage includes curled, strappy, often hardened leaves. The good news is that healthy plants with little damage can grow out of it. Just be sure to read the label.

Hand weeding. Even if you use the tools above, you still may have to pull some weeds by hand. Weeds come up easier after a rain, when the ground is damp. Because the mulch I put down at the start of the season keeps most of the weeds out of my garden, hand weeding is pretty light.

Amanda Taylor is an agricultural agent with the Caldwell County Extension Center, 120 Hospital Ave. NE #1 in Lenoir. The center provides Caldwell County residents access to resources of N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University through educational programs and publications. For more information, call 757-1290 or go to

No matter which way you get rid of weeds, it is best done when they are small and before they go to seed. For answers to your garden questions, contact the Caldwell County Extension Service at 828-757-1290 or visit