Getting rid of weeds without using pesticides may not seem feasible. But local experts say keeping your garden free from those unwanted weeds without using toxic substances is not only possible, but easier than you think.
Jim Norskov of Roots Greenhouse in Rapid Valley and Pennington County Master Gardener Joe Hillberry shared tips for keeping those pesky plants from overtaking your garden.
Norskov uses a system called plasticulture, which is the latest method of weed control and involves using a plastic covering over drip irrigation.
“It’s a form of what you would term as a mulch — plastic can be a mulch too,” Norskov said. “Mulches are generally thought of as things like straw or pine needles or even leaves or some other form of organic material that you put around the plants to keep the weeds down, but plastic is also considered a mulch for the same reason — it covers the ground and eliminates weeds from coming up through it."
Though Norskov realizes that some people are against using plastic because it creates problems organically, he admits that he likes it.
“That’s probably the best way, if you’re trying to garden and get rid of weeds, that will simplify things,” he said.
“So far I’ve got two 150-foot-long rows of onions and two long rows of strawberries planted with this plastic system, with the drip irrigation under the plastic. I don’t have the tool that you pull with the tractor but you can do it by hand. I’m going to put tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers and squash in the same way.”
Another way to minimize weeds, according to Hillberry, is by using cardboard.
“You can lay down cardboard and then cover it with mulch, and that keeps things from coming up, so if you’re planting a garden and you put that down through the rows, that will keep the weeds from coming up,” Hillberry said, adding that it is also important to saturate the cardboard so that it deteriorates.
When it comes to getting rid of weeds without using chemicals, Hillberry recommends another alternative, which is corn gluten. He uses one called Preen.
“It stops seeds from germinating, so you can’t put it in your garden if you’re going to plant seeds because then your lettuce and your radishes and stuff won’t come up," he said. "But you can put it around your flowers or around your perennials and it will stop any of them that are seeds."
Hillberry also said it’s important to use the product early in the year before the seeds start germinating.
Finally, another way to rid your garden of weeds without using pesticides is to use garden tools and elbow grease.
“You need to get down and loosen the dirt and get those roots that are down under the ground,” Hillberry said, adding that garden tools help loosen the soil down around the root so you can get the whole root. He also uses a hoe to loosen the dirt and then he chops off the weeds.
Regardless of the method you use to stop weeds from growing, Hillberry says prevention is key. He explained that long ago, Native Americans discovered a great way to minimize weeds.
“If you do a really good job weeding in May and June, then you won’t have so many weeds come July and August — if you get all those roots out early, they won’t come because they don’t get enough moisture to germinate,” Hillberry said.
For additional gardening tips or to learn more about plasticulture, visit nrcs.usda.gov.