Although weeds are the bane of almost every gardener, weeds can actually be a good sign.  The presence of weeds in a landscape means that the soil will support plant life, including California native plants.  If there are no weeds growing at a brand new site, or very little growth, this may be an indicator of poor soil conditions.  Have the soil tested before selecting plants for the site if this is the case.

Know your weeds, know your soil

Before eradicating weeds, take note of what is growing.  A lot can be learned about the soil of the site based on what weeds are currently growing. For example, some weeds thrive in alkaline soils, while others do not.  Knowing the weeds and what conditions they prefer can give great insight into the soil below, and provide guidance on which California native plants are best suited for the site.

Methods for removing weeds

Weeds should be removed before new plants are planted.  Weeds will compete for water and nutrients with new plants, so it is advisable to undertake a weed eradication program before planting.  If pre-planting eradication isn’t feasible for you, be prepared to battle with weeds for several years until your native plants become well established.  Once established, native plants do a fairly good job of discouraging weeds.

There are many methods for removing weeds, including mechanical, biological, and chemical.  Researching the types of weed present will help determine which weed removal method to use.  For example, many gardeners successfully control weeds by hand-pulling, cutting, grubbing, or mowing.  Yet some weeds will need their entire root removed in order to eradicate them.

Before eradicating weeds, take note of what is growing.  A lot can be learned about the soil of the site based on what weeds are currently growing.

A thick layer of mulch is a great way to keep weeds under control.  When mulching for weed control, the mulch layer must be at least 3 inches deep.  Shredded cedar seems to keep more weeds out than most of the other barks/wood chips.

In large landscapes, goat grazing may be an effective and economical biological control.  Check with local jurisdiction to learn about more about this option.

Finally, herbicides are an option for getting rid of weeds.  Keep in mind that chemicals may have harmful side effects for people, plants, and animals.  Other methods for weed management should always be considered first before resorting to chemicals.

Weeding Don’ts

Avoid weed cloths and any type of plastic sheeting.  In many cases, weed cloths actually encourage the growth of weeds as a new, thin layer of soil can develop on top of the cloth.  This provides the perfect environment for weeds to germinate, and their roots will grow right through the cloth, creating a maintenance nightmare.  Plastic sheeting can kill weed seeds by heating the soil below, but it will also kill all of the beneficial soil life that is fundamental to a healthy landscape.  Additionally, both act as barriers that prevent the natural cycling of nutrients through the soil that plants depend on.

Eliminating weeds is also lot easier in a native garden that receives little or no artificial irrigation.  The drought tolerant California natives handle the dry conditions well once established, but the invasive weeds can’t.

A connection, not a chore

Despite all this, you’ll probably always need to allocate at least a little time to pulling weeds in your garden.  Take these maintenance activities as an opportunity to connect and engage with the landscape.  There is always something new and exciting happing in the garden!

Some information provided by Creating and Caring for Your Native Plant Garden, Mike Evans of Tree of Life Nursery, and California Native Plants for the Garden, by Carol Borenstien, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien.

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