How To Prevent Weed Seeds From Germinating

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Cover crops differ from ‘regular’ crops in that they are grown solely so the soil is covered, rather than for harvestable things. Cover crops are used by lots of folks – grain farmers, vegetable farmers, flower farmers, and they offer lots of soil benefits, as described in this blog. But they can also help control… Listed in this article are 5 effective ways to minimize weed growth in your garden / turf / landscape with Mirimichi Green. Learn how to kill weed seeds in soil to prevent weeds and other invasive grasses from continuing to sprout every year.

How can you prevent weed seeds from germinating in your garden?

Cover crops differ from ‘regular’ crops in that they are grown solely so the soil is covered, rather than for harvestable things. Cover crops are used by lots of folks – grain farmers, vegetable farmers, flower farmers, and they offer lots of soil benefits, as described in this blog. But they can also help control weeds! Let’s explore how.

First, let’s think about the life of a weed seed. Better yet, let’s pretend we are a weed seed trying to grow in your garden. We’ll start sitting in or on the soil. One of the biggest threats to a seed is something most people don’t normally think about: getting eaten. Mice, crickets, beetles, ants, birds (including chickens) – these things all love to eat the seeds sitting in the soil. Often the seed-eaters are themselves constantly in danger of getting eaten. A cover crop provides protection for seed-eaters. It’s harder for a hawk to see a juicy mouse running along the ground if there’s a cover crop. The mice protected by the cover crop will eat a lot more seeds.

Seed-eaters such as mice can hang out and eat weed seeds under cover crops, safe from predators. Credit: Gina Nichols

Pretend you, the weed seed, didn’t get eaten. It’s time to think about germinating. But you, the weed seed, can only germinate if you get the right ‘cues’. Weed seeds are incredibly smart. A lot of weed seeds will only germinate when they sense ‘pure light’. Light changes as it passes through green leaves. Weeds don’t want competition, so they will wait until there are no other living plants around before they germinate. So, what if you planted a cover crop? The cover crop, alive or dead, is blocking that pure light from hitting the soil, where you and your weed seed friends live. You might never get the cue to germinate.

Another cue seeds look for is large swings in temperature. If the soil gets really warm during the day, then cools back down at night, this is a cue there isn’t anything trying to compete with it. Under a cover crop, the soil is shaded during the warm parts of the day, so the temperature swings are much less drastic. You might sit there waiting for a cue for a long time. But the longer you sit there, the higher the chance you’ll get eaten by one of the seed-eaters.

Let’s say you managed to get all the cues you needed to germinate. Congratulations, you are a weed seedling! But your fight is just beginning. The cover crop is hogging a lot of the things you need – light, water, nutrients – it’s stealing resources. And the cover crop is bigger than you, you’ll most likely just get the ‘leftovers’. The cover crop is making your life hard, so you are not going to flourish. And again, there is the threat of being eaten. Mammals love to eat tender little seedlings, and again they love to hang out under the protection of the cover crop, so your chances of survival aren’t great.

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As you can see, using a cover crop can make the life of a garden weed much more difficult. In fact, many community gardens plant cover crops in plots that don’t have an owner, just to prevent weeds from taking over. To recap, cover crops can prevent weeds by:

  • Providing protection for seed-eaters
  • Preventing weed seeds from germinating
  • Competing with weeds for resources

Are you sold? Here are three ways you can start integrating cover crops into your garden.

1. Fall-planting

A simple way to get started is to plant a winter rye cover crop in the fall (October/November) as you put the garden to bed. Many gardening seed companies offer winter rye seeds. It’s a hardy plant that survives most winters if it gets to be one soda can tall before winter truly sets in. It also puts a satisfying ‘green’ in the garden during months that can feel dreary.

You want fall-planted cover crops to be about one soda can tall before Thanksgiving. Credit: Gina Nichols

2. Spring-planting

If you are reading this in December, you might think you’ve missed your cover-cropping chance. You’re wrong! You can plant an early-season cover crop such as oats and hairy vetch as early as March. Good garden areas for these include places destined for crops you’ll transplant in the summer (pumpkins, eggplants, tomatoes), or pathways you want to keep from getting weedy.

3. Summer-planting

If it gets to summer and you find you have some empty space, buckwheat is an excellent summer cover crop. It grows quickly, bees love the flowers, and is easy to kill by mowing or pulling.

For all cover crops, you need to make sure the cover crop is dead before you plant your harvesting crop. Some cover crops will die if you mow them, but others need to be pulled (you can place the pulled plants back on the ground to keep it covered), crimped (imagine stomping on the plants to break their stems), or tilled. If the cover crop is still alive, it will compete with the main crop for nutrients and light, which you don’t want.

A happy garden area goes into the winter covered by a winter rye cover crop at Mustard Seed Community Farm in Ames Iowa. Credit: Gina Nichols

Some other common cover crops are clovers, peas, tillage radish, mustards, barley, wheat, and Sudan grass. Many gardening companies also offer seed mixes. Once you start using cover crops you might find they are just as exciting as the food-producing plants in your garden. As a rule of thumb if you see bare soil you might have an opportunity to use a cover crop, the quiet weed fighter. Happy cover cropping!

Answered by Gina Nichols, Iowa State University

This blog is part of Crop Science Society of America’s Seed Week celebration. Why celebrate seeds? Anyone who plants a seed is investing in hope. That’s one of the attractions of seeds. For the gardener, it could be hope for a beautiful flower, or perhaps a delicious zucchini squash. For our farmers, seeds are the hope of this year’s yields of produce, cash crops or forage. No matter the size or shape of the seed, they all can bring forth new life. At Crop Science Society of America, we hold seeds in very high regard. Please visit our Seed Week webpage for news stories, blogs and more information about seed research and facts.

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Please visit our Seed Week webpage for more information.

Read the other blogs in our seed series!

About us: This blog is sponsored and written by members of the American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science Society of America. Our members are researchers and trained, certified, professionals in the areas of growing our world’s food supply while protecting our environment. We work at universities, government research facilities, and private businesses across the United States and the world.

5 Ways To Minimize Your Weed Growth

There are always weed seeds that lie dormant in the soil. The seeds are waiting for the sunshine to start to germinate or be awoken from a long slumber. To avoid awakening the weed seeds, don’t disturb the soil. Disturbing the soil includes tilling and cultivating. But that seems somewhat impossible when trying to plant new flowers, plants or grass. When planting flowers or plants, sow the seeds above the ground in a small mound of topsoil or compost.

2. Fight the weeds before they sprout

An effective way to prevent weeds is by using a pre-emergent herbicide that will stop weed seeds from ever germinating but won’t kill existing plants and grasses.

The tricky part is determining when to apply a pre-emergent because it must be applied before the weed seeds have time to germinate underground. The best way to know when to apply a pre-emergent is to make note of the date when you see the first weeds in the yard or garden. Then, mark your calendar 3 weeks before that date for next spring and apply the pre-emergent then.

You can also start from scratch by using a non-selective herbicide. This will kill whatever it sprays. It is also recommended to use organic options to prevent harmful synthetic build up in the soil. A great option is Mirimichi Green Weed Control. It is organic, OMRI listed and will show results in 24 hours.

3. Promote healthy plants & grass

If there is healthy grass, weeds will have less room to grow in the lawn. To promote a healthy lawn, reseed bald patches and fertilize if a soil suffers from nutrient deficiencies. By maintaining a healthy lawn, fewer weeds will arise. Nutri-Turf has the ideal balance of nutrients for all grass types and will keep the lawn lush.

4. Keep your plants close

Planting closely together will provide more shade to the soil below, which will prevent weed seeds from getting sunlight and allow less room for weeds to grow. You can usually reduce the recommended planting space on the packaging by about 25 percent. However, most spacing recommendations are based on the prediction that adjoining plants will not touch at their mature size, so follow the guidelines if you are planting plants that are prone to foliar diseases.

5. Create an organic barrier

Spreading an organic barrier around plants will submerge weed seeds and prevent light from starting germination all while keeping your plants cool. Organic barriers are best such as mulches. Mulches can host crickets and carabid beetles, which will feed on weed seeds. To create the organic barrier, spread mulch 2 to 4 inches deep around your plant bed.

How to Kill Weed Seeds in Soil [5 Easy Methods]

To kill weed seeds in soil you will have to apply one or more of the following methods:

  • Heat soil to temperatures high enough to kill weeds seeds
  • Force seeds to sprout and destroy growing weeds
  • Apply chemical or natural weed killers that prevent weeds from sprouting
  • Use flame weeding to destroy weeds and seeds at once
  • Layer mulch in garden areas to suppress weed sprouting and attract insects that eat seeds
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With this arsenal of tricks for killing weed seeds before they sprout, you can stop the spread of weeds in both your lawn and garden.

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5 Tips for Killing Weed Seeds

Rather than spending time and effort battling weeds as they sprout, attack weeds at the source by killing weed seeds. Each of these methods destroys weed seeds, which ensures you won’t have to battle recurring weed invasions. Try these ways to get rid of weed seeds yourself.

Solarization

Soil solarization is a very powerful method for killing weed seeds. Weed seeds begin to die if soil temperatures surpass 108 degrees, with full seed death ensured by soil surface temperatures of 140 degrees or more. Solarization uses clear plastic tarps to trap heat at the soil surface, killing weed seeds within the tarped area. To solarize an area, follow these steps:

  • Clear the area of all vegetation through use of a hoe or other garden implement. Remove any woody stumps
  • Till the soil to further break up any weed root systems left behind.
  • Rake away all vegetation residue
  • Water the tilled and cleared soil with a garden hose until it is damp.
  • Lay a sheet of clear plastic over the area. Weigh it down tightly at the edges
  • Leave the plastic in place for at least two months.

Solarization is the best method to reclaim a weedy garden or other area. It is a “clean slate” for your soil, because seeds will be destroyed by the solar heat trapped beneath the plastic.

It is typically tough to implement solarization in large areas and is not usually suitable for use in lawns, where you may want to preserve grass or other plants. Pre-emergent weed killers and flame weeding are much better for use in lawns.

Till and Kill

Weed seeds can lie dormant in soil for decades and are only “activated” when brought to within an inch of the surface. One method to rid soil of dormant weed seeds is to force these dormant seeds to sprout, then attack them with a powerful natural or chemical weed killer. To do this:

  • In spring, till the affected area. Tilling brings dormant seeds to the surface
  • Water the area for 1–2 weeks with a sprinkler or soaker hose
  • When weeds begin to sprout, apply the weed killer of your choice

This is another “clean slate” method, where you force weed seeds to show themselves and then kill young weeds before they mature and cast seeds. Because of the invasive tilling step, it is not best used in areas with desirable grasses and plants.

Use Pre-Emergent Weed Killer

Pre-emergent weed killer stops weeds in their tracks. It works by attacking weed seeds just as they begin to germinate, killing them before they even poke above the surface. It’s a weed killer so good, the only sign it’s working is that there will be no new weeds at all.

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