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WEEDS! Good or bad? Problem or no big deal?

 
Derek Arnold
Posts: 5
Location: East TN (zone 7a)
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So, I planted a forest garden. When I got my plants I was rushed. . . or possibly just excited to get them in the ground. I neglected sheet mulching. I thought "hey, 6 inches of wood mulch, that will probably smother the weeds." Well, I was wrong. Now I got a lot of perennial grasses, bermuda, etc. I am trying to be optimistic and thinking that once the trees get up and established it will shade out some of it, and that in nature, there isn't a squirrel out there somewhere laying down cardboard.

My question: is this necessarily a problem? Really, all I have established right now are some "bigger" plants like trees, some bushes, and other thick, woody-stemmed things. I could bite the bullet and go sheet mulch around everything and do the whole garden, then bring in more wood chips and sort of push a reset button on the whole thing. Or I could just sheet mulch around the existing plants and around any new plants I put out in the fall and spring. Then the "weeds" would just be mainly walking paths and empty spaces.

I would love any advice on this. I know now and ounce of prevention would have solved the 10 pounds of cure I may be facing. Thoughts?
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 1925
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Congratulations on planting your forest garden. It is a wonderful thing.

In general, the weeds are growing there because the habitat is right for them. One weed you mentioned is grass. If you have sod-making grasses around your trees, you want to rip them out. They have short roots and don't help your forest. They won't allow water or nutrients to pass as they normally should. Don't allow lawn to spread throughout your forest garden.

Otherwise, take a look at the weeds that you do have. They are probably telling you something about your soil. Horsetails can tell you that there is moisture deep in the soil. Dandelions do well in compacted soil. Plantains bring up calcium, as they grow well in low calcium soils. All of these weeds are solving the problem in your soil. When you cut the foliage of these weeds and leave it in the soil, you are adding that calcium, or whatever nutrient to your soil that it was lacking in. When you dig them out, you are interrupting that cycle of healing. You could have your soil tested. The old timers just used the weeds as a gauge of what their soil was lacking in. Logan Labs in Ohio will do a test for about $20. Then you would know in a more technical way. Perennial grasses have deep roots generally. Grasses create more organic material more quickly than other plants. In a hot climate like TN, you want to continually be replenishing the OM, as the high heat converts it into nutrients quickly.

For most of the weeds, I would chop them at ground level, leave the roots in, and toss or compost to increase the nutrients in your soil and your soil tilth.
John S
PDX OR
 
Zach Muller
gardener
Posts: 776
Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Hey Dereck welcome to the forum. Just like you when I started my forest garden I did take the time to remove most of the bermuda but did not do sheet mulching or lasagna anything. Now I have some bermuda still persisting here and there, but it is not around important trees, and doesn't get dense enough to form a lawn. I remove it when I am in the area, but it has not bothered any of my plantings, and actually catches some sediment that flows through. I will eventually keep pulling it out until other ground covers and things will take over, but i am taking it slow and steady.
The perennial clumping grasses leftover in one side of the garden I just treat as mulch producers and chop and drop them frequently. It is a win win since they also catch sediment and break some fast moving currents when there are flash flood conditions. Aside from grasses and stuff all the other weeds in the garden I either planted, or want to let them grow up there for now. Good luck.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1969
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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Like most things, the answer is "It depends."

Do you have any photographs? Some weeds will slow the growth of your trees, some will climb up the trees and choke them, some will coexist happily.
I agree that identifying the weeds will help you. See if you can figure out what they all are and a management plan will become easier to figure out. While it's true that weeds help bring the soil into balance, the population of weeds is also due to previous management practices and the local seed bank.

You probably don't need to do a big sheet mulching endeavor, but I suspect you will do well to chop and drop the weeds you have before they go to seed if possible. In my experience, establishing a system in favor of the plants and trees I want takes work, especially at first.
 
Derek Arnold
Posts: 5
Location: East TN (zone 7a)
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I don't have any current pictures. I can get some here in a few days. (I'm working all weekend and i don't get home until dark). Mainly what I am dealing with is bermuda grass. I would necessarily refer to things like plantain as "weeds" since they are beneficial. I wish I could get home plantain to take root in the area. I also had some dock that came up early, and I noticed the rabbits were eating that instead of a lot of my other young plants. I was more than happy to leave that. I understand the benefits of what most people consider weeds. My problem is with lawn grasses creeping in and starting to take over a bed. When I planted an annual garden on the other side of my property from my forest garden I had some left over seeds like pumpkin, squash, watermelon, etc. I put those in my forest garden because, i figured why not? Once those are finished for the year I will go in with a string trimmer and really scalp down the bermuda. I have protected my trees by keeping the grasses away, but it continues to try to creep in. I also am fighting to protect my asparagus bed I put beneath my peach tree. I read asparagus can be susceptible to weeds. I do have 2 rolls of weed fabric laying around the house. I thought about using that to cover the bermuda and see if that helps control it. I am thinking that if I was several years into this it might not be that big of an issue.
 
John Elliott
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I don't have "weeds" per se, I just have some volunteer plants that are less useful than others.

Henbit is well naturalized in my garden. Can always count on it to bloom in February and disappear by early summer, only to return when the weather cools off. It never makes a smothering appearance, so it's welcome. So is Carolina geranium. Since the poultry and rodents like to nibble on it, if it starts to get too exuberant, I can always chop it for feed.

Chanca piedra is also well naturalized, maybe a little too much. It's gradually spreading, each year cropping up in new places and thicker in places where it was already established. It's a useful medicinal herb, so I like to have some growing, but I don't want it choking out other things.

I would like to get dill and cilantro naturalized in my garden. I'm pretty close to it. I don't need to buy seed for these two, there always seems to be a stalk somewhere with plenty of ripe seed on it that I can use to scatter in areas where I want to encourage it. They can pop up anywhere they want, just like weeds, but they are too useful to be called weeds.

Bermuda grass and bindweed used to be more of a problem, but with the increasing plant diversity, they are having trouble competing. I still pull them when I see them coming up, because I don't want them to become a problem, but it's getting so they are rare enough that I don't have to be very vigilant about it.

Finally, Johnson grass and nightshade are not welcome at all. All nightshade gets pulled whenever and wherever I find it so it can't make berries and set seed. The small amount of Johnson grass is under control mainly because when it gets to a noticeable size, say 2' tall or so, it gets yanked for the guinea pigs. They like the tasty Johnson grass.

Whenever you finish planting an area, Nature takes over and decides what is going to do well, what is going to do poorly, and what companion plants she wants to add. To a limited extent, it is "no big deal". Only when she starts to deviate markedly from your intentions do you really have to roll up the sleeves and get dirty doing some "weeding".
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1969
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
69
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Ah, Bermuda grass. I dont have it but I do have bindweed and quackgrass, similarly aggressive invaders.

I found it worthwhile to weed really well around each tree/bush, put down a collar of cardboard, and mulch heavily over that with woodchips. putting mulch over the roots of these kind of weeds doesn't get rid of them. thick mulch does make it easier to get the weed roots out as they come back.
 
Derek Arnold
Posts: 5
Location: East TN (zone 7a)
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Thanks for that John. I was hoping that eventually the bermuda will stop being a problem. I've kept the other weeds to a minimum, and i let some of the broadleaf stuff grow up and then chopped and dropped. I don't mind those too much because it's manageable. Sadly, it's the bermuda that I let go, and it's much more difficult to eradicate. I have protected my trees with newspaper and woodchips, but it's the empty spaces that I didn't have any ground cover in that became the problem. Nature put my ground cover in for me, and not the kind I wanted. I think i'll just start creating small areas that are free of the bermuda and start establishing my own ground covers. I was hoping to create a self-maintaining system that was relatively maintenance free, but I didn't count on the bermuda being so aggressive.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1304
Location: Central New Jersey
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Derek, your last post sounds to me like a very good plan. Clear an appropriate area around each tree and sheet mulch to keep the grass down, check. Create some incubation areas for desire able ground covers here and there through the pathways and other open areas, so the good stuff can get well started and then naturally expand to take over the area.

I seem to recall something about an Australian who planted plugs of things he wanted in his pasture that, over a bit of time, converted the area to his desired profile.

Between chop and drop of the unwanted stuff, protecting the trees and "inoculating" the areas with your preferred ground cover, I would expect that you could cure the problem without too much added work.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1969
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
69
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Plugs is a great idea! I've had great success with them for oregano, mint, comfrey, chicory and thyme.

Dill is almost naturalized here, and parsnips are a significant part of the garden and meadow.

Here are some "weeds" that I didn't plant and I do encourage in my garden, orchard and meadow:
smooth bedstraw, wild strawberry, orchardgrass, timothy, various sedges, yarrow, queen Anne's lace, vetch, goldenrod, lamb's quarters, wild radish, milkweed, common mallow, evening primrose, purslane and dandelion.

Some that I don't tolerate much of: tickweed, bindweed, poison ivy, asian bittersweet, asian honeysuckle

I tolerate some poke and some multiflora rose.

My conclusions on plants are always evolving and I am always trying to observe. It's fun watching my ideas take shape! Some trees and bushes I've planted were total mistakes and are dead. I consider the money I spent on them not wasted but part of the materials fees of my personal permaculture homeschool project. An education can be expensive! It's loads of fun, and when my biggest job is harvesting I feel like a success. Even if lots of experiments provide me with more experience and knowledge than produce.
 
Amy Woodhouse
Posts: 48
Location: NC, Zone 7
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What is the one thing grass hates...shade. Now, as you found out mulch creates shade for a little while but then quickly turns into a growing medium. I am not a big fan of cardboard but it will surely work. Brush piles on contour work well and can be crept along down hill as you plant. Another easy way to accomplish this is with 6 inch logs laid on the ground for a couple months. Also, you can make mounds in the middle of a section of grass and plant pumpkins really thick or some other large leafed plant that will shade the grass. I have found that Daikon radishes will grow in grass if just broadcasted...same with buckwheat, clover and curly dock. Curly dock is probably the toughest edible ground cover I am aware of. It seems to thrive in the middle of lawns that look like putting greens.
 
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