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To pull or to chop? What do you do with perennial weeds in the garden?  RSS feed

 
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How do you deal with perennial, deep rooted weeds such as dock and dandelion in your vegetable garden?

In Permaculture, chop and drop is often advocated so that you benefit from the nutrients a particular weed has accumulated through its root system into the leaves, making it available when you chop and leave them to decompose on the soil. It is said that thus the soil will heal itself, and obviously the weed will eventually die as no plant can survive without photosynthesis.
However, you do have to keep on top of it and avoid them setting seed and taking over. Which is very difficult once your garden gets beyond a certain size!

I have tended to pull any weeds and leave them to rot in situ or toss them to the chickens if they've set seed.

With dock, if the plant gets older than say a year, requires a specialized tool (which is on hand fortunately) as the roots are so deep. Which means that it is pulling up nutrients from a soil level that the vegies don't reach, so should I chop and drop instead running the risk of setting seed if it gets overlooked?

Generally speaking there seem to be two schools of gardening - no weeds at all vs jungle of letting it all go. How do you handle the issue? And what is better for the soil?
 
gardener
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In my climate, both of these plants are allowed to stay in my garden.

I let dandelions be anywhere they are not interfering with what I am planting. (I've been known to harvest other folk's danelion puffs to merrily scatter the seeds in my yard and garden!)


I've only had one dock plant survive the summer without going to seed. I had a very small garden then, and was able to keep the seed stalk from forming. It turned out to be a pretty plant, with an unusual shape for dock. It had the form of an upside down bowl, 24 " tall. I don't let all dock stalks to mature their seeds though. Anytime one begins to be in my way, the seed stalk is gone. With just a couple times of cutting back the stalks with green seeds, the root gives up.

If you follow the link under the Curley Dock picture, you can read that the dock leaves are edible, with a tart flavor. The best leaves for raw use are the ones with still visible fold lines that run lengthwise. The others are still good, chopped up in casseroles, or soups.

The Yellow Dock has the same growth habit as the Curley Dock. The leaves are straighter, and the root is yellowish. (Roots have been said to NOT be edible)

Just to make sure we are talking about the same plant, common names can be confusing:
rumexcrispus.jpeg
[Thumbnail for rumexcrispus.jpeg]
Curley Dock from http://www.eattheweeds.com/rumex-ruminations/
yellow-dock-leaf-back.jpg
[Thumbnail for yellow-dock-leaf-back.jpg]
Yellow dock from the garden
yellow-dock-leaf-face.jpg
[Thumbnail for yellow-dock-leaf-face.jpg]
Yellow dokc from the garden
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Oh! To be more clear, My dock tends to sprout in the early fall, overwintering, sometimes dying back to the soil after week long freezes, and resprouting in the spring.
 
pollinator
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I kind of do both.  In heavily planted areas I try to keep the weeds from taking over.  I pull the weeds and either put them in the compost pile or leave them in place.  I have one area that get's super weedy but it also has a lot of perennials and trees.  I will pick the weeds and create a big pile and leave it right

there in the garden.  I figure it's just another micro-climate.    I go back a week later and the pile of weeds is virtually gone.    I try to get the roots when I'm pulling but no worries if I don't.      

For large areas, like along my fence-line,  I use a European Scythe.  Scything has really improved the growth of trees and shrubs in those areas.  

Along the fence,  I keep plants somewhat clear depending on what they are and then scythe everything else.  If you get a good scythe you will never use a weed eater again.  

Other than a good shovel the scythe is the best investment I have made for the forest.   In the scythed area, my black locusts have put on at least three feet this year.  I don't really consider clover or dandelion weeds as they are so important to native bees.  If they are too close to baby plantings I will yank them.

...
Another good way to keep weeds and grass out is by using comfrey.  (Some like it some don't)  It works great as a barrier and along chipped/grass edges.   It grows like an alien here but I've read that, depending on climate, not everyone has the same experience.  Make sure you get a variety that doesn't seed


Edible Acres on Comfrey propagation




Follow-Up Video on Comfrey, Edible Acres



 
pollinator
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I do both.   My general rule is chop and drop into the beds, keeping close watch so that the invasive ones don't go to seed.   Early in the spring when new sprouts are coming up I pull them just to minimize proliferation.   But once they get some age on them it's too difficult to get the root entirely (thistles especially) so I chop those and leave out in the sun to dry before composting.   My garden is 2000 sq ft with raised beds and paths so it's manageable if I maintain it as I wander through every day.   And being an urban lot, I'm happy to have as much green biomass as I can get, to add to the veg beds/compost bin .   I love curly dock - I nibble on it occasionally and my chickens like it so I let it be, but chop the flower stems off.   Plantain is wonderful too - I let it multiply wildly, then I pull the young ones from the paths, let it grow around the borders and function as green mulch in the beds, then chop it to the ground when it gets annoying, leaving the roots to rot.  

I LOVE comfrey - have it growing at the end of each bed and along one perimeter fence so I chop and drop that all summer long.   Caution to newbies though,  it will expand in size over the years, multiplying at the roots so give it a good 3 foot diameter of space to flourish, and then you'll still need to dig out new shoots around the perimeter to contain it (I do it once a year in spring).
 
pollinator
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Susan Wakeman wrote:

Generally speaking there seem to be two schools of gardening - no weeds at all vs jungle of letting it all go. How do you handle the issue? And what is better for the soil?



Ther is a third, but might fall into the jungle category. Plant the weeds you want. Like clover or hairy vetch in a corn patch. The corn will grow higher so harvesting wont be an issue. Both of these fix nitrogen.

A cover crop can be considered a controlled weed. Seed it at times you don't have garden plants going.

Eventually you are controlling what weeds you have by providing competition, shading etc on the weeds you dont want.
 
gardener
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Susan Wakeman wrote:How do you deal with perennial, deep rooted weeds such as dock and dandelion in your vegetable garden?

In Permaculture, chop and drop is often advocated so that you benefit from the nutrients a particular weed has accumulated through its root system into the leaves, making it available when you chop and leave them to decompose on the soil. It is said that thus the soil will heal itself, and obviously the weed will eventually die as no plant can survive without photosynthesis.
However, you do have to keep on top of it and avoid them setting seed and taking over. Which is very difficult once your garden gets beyond a certain size!

I have tended to pull any weeds and leave them to rot in situ or toss them to the chickens if they've set seed.

With dock, if the plant gets older than say a year, requires a specialized tool (which is on hand fortunately) as the roots are so deep. Which means that it is pulling up nutrients from a soil level that the vegies don't reach, so should I chop and drop instead running the risk of setting seed if it gets overlooked?

Generally speaking there seem to be two schools of gardening - no weeds at all vs jungle of letting it all go. How do you handle the issue? And what is better for the soil?



As you alluded to, deep rooted "weeds" (dandelion can be considered a leafy green) are indeed beneficial to garden soil when used as mineral miners (left and chopped and dropped many times over the life of the plant).
When you notice a plant heading out, just pinch it off and let it fall to the soil if the seeds haven't gotten a good start on developing. If the seed heads are looking swollen, take them to your compost heap and poke them into the center.
Pulling perennial "weeds" is usually (to me) counter productive, my goals are to get the widest variety of minerals, organisms and vegetative matter into my soil as often as I can.
Perennial plants are great for doing this via the chop and drop mulching method, especially when those plants are extreme deep root plants, they are the ones that can really be of use for bringing  minerals to the surface from deep below.

There are probably three actual schools of gardening the third being controlled chaos, where you keep a modicum of control by chopping and dropping through out the year, thus preventing the predominance of the jungle look while never looking like the "bared earth with mulch" look.
The methods chosen should be in line with the desired end goals of the grower for nutrition not only for the plant but for the grower.

Redhawk
 
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There are probably three actual schools of gardening the third being controlled chaos, where you keep a modicum of control by chopping and dropping through out the year, thus preventing the predominance of the jungle look while never looking like the "bared earth with mulch" look.  

 This is a bit more in line with my method.  There are some plants that I tend to pull, but often, (like in the place of my dominant species-dandelion), I chop and drop, or cut beneath the surface and take what I have to the compost.  I tend to let all dandelions live on the edges of the beds, and manage the ones that are in the middle.  With perennial daisies, I tend to remove them entirely if I can; it's hard to get all of the root bits and they are pretty tenacious.  The reason that I try to remove them is that they get larger and larger in place, taking over garden space, and they once they mature, there is a certain time of year where, thereafter, they are constantly putting out flowers and thus wanting to seed. The blessing is that the flowers are bright white, on tall stalks, and are thus easy to spot.  They are like a flag that says, deal with me!   The other weed I pull is Canada Thistle, it spreads in wide clonal stands.  The more I remove it, the more power I remove from the clonal stand.  
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I use the same method for all grasses as I described for daisies.  Grasses get their own compost, as they are so difficult and tenacious growers.
 
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All the stuff that grows in the edges of the beds I chop and compost. The roots aren't hurting anything in the edges because the real crops won't grow well there anyway. Plus I only have a 1/4 acre city lot so I need to make the most out of the compost material I have. I figure it probably helps with keeping the soil on the edges of the beds from getting compacted from me working in the paths.

Anything that makes its way into the beds generally comes up root and all. I leave non-perennial roots in the beds, but the perennial weeds come out.
 
pollinator
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Susan Wakeman wrote:How do you deal with perennial, deep rooted weeds such as dock and dandelion in your vegetable garden?


The short answer is that I tend to chop and drop.

The long answer: I have challenged my own thinking about weeds in recent months. Today I am firmly in the camp that believes the plant that grows in any given spot is the perfect plant for that soil, for that climate, for that time. Weeds are simply plants that I do not prefer to have in that spot, but they are growing there because they fit.

So when I see a weed these days, I’m spending more time observing, thinking, and researching. Why is that weed there? Why do I see it as a weed? What would I prefer to see there? What can I change to get more plants that I prefer and fewer I don’t prefer?

I am learning more about various ways to suppress weeds. I am looking at options for enhancing the soil microbiome, increasing water storage capacity, planting competitors, attracting insects or animals that will eat that plant, manipulating shade, and more.

Obviously I do not go through these questions for each and every individual weed I see, but I do in general search for better, systemic responses to plants like goathead (Tribulus terrestris) or cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum).

I also look to see if there are ways I can use the plant. For example, while I don’t prefer russian thistle (Kali tragus) in my garden, my sheep and my goats love it. So I may chop and feed that particular weed to the ruminants. My ducks also love it, so I may let them roam supervised and herded into patches of thistle in the garden while it’s green and tasty to ducks.

The answer for me is not a simple choice between A, B, or C. It’s all of the above, some of the above, or none of the above depending upon a large number of factors. But in answering the questions posed, I learn a lot about my land, my plants, my animals, and myself.


 
Roberto pokachinni
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Welcome to Permies, Jeremy McKinley!  Great first post.          

Hi Greg Harness.

So when I see a weed these days, I’m spending more time observing, thinking, and researching. Why is that weed there? Why do I see it as a weed? What would I prefer to see there? What can I change to get more plants that I prefer and fewer I don’t prefer?

 This is a great observation/action strategy.                        


To all:  Another fairly recent thread that has a lot of great info about weeding (or not) strategies/and reasoning.
 
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My garden has been taken over by Morning Glory (or is it Bindweed).  This plant will smother any and all vegetables.  I will try solarization and start over after adding another 6 inches of wood chips.
 
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My feeling on this is that it is VERY climate dependent. When people talk about weeds dying in the summer I'm seriously scratching my head as I look out of the window. Here we have warm wet summers, where everything grows like mad. Leave weeds a week too long and they go nuts. Similarly, winters are comparatively mild, so little dies over winter either. This is a good thing when it comes to growing crops, but can quickly lead to rampant weeds. Chop and drop would be - and has been - a relentless chore, as the regrowth would be so rapid.

I've got a vague plan in mind for next spring, based on observations from this year.

1) In one bed I did some vigorous hoeing in the autumn, and then three times again in the spring. This hit multiple flushes of the weed seeds regrowing, and the bed stayed comparatively free of weeds for most of the summer. I never got around to planting a crop in it because of life getting in the way. In my climate repeatedly hitting the newly sprouting weed seeds works, and without any deep soil cultivation. I never went deeper than about 2 inches.

2) Roots and shade from the surrounding trees and bushes are definitely impacting growth both through shade and competition in the root zone. I'll be taking out some nearby plants, and reducing some crowns in the trees.

3) In late Autumn I will hire a rotovator for day - I'll be breaking a bunch of new ground for planting vegetables, including turning under all the current grass paths. The paths harbour many of the perennial weeds that work their way back into the beds as soon as you turn your back. Then in spring I'll hire it again, but set to do a shallow hoe rather than working deeply.

The ultimate objective is a weed-free planting area that will, from thence forth be much easier to maintain with a regular light hand hoeing. With this system up and running I expect to be able to maintain a substantially larger area with less work because the perennial weeds will be gone, and the seed back will be depleted.
 
Michael Cox
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I guess I should clarify - this is in my "zone 1" - most of my land gets very little attention, bar some periodic visits from a strimmer, or the sheep.
 
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Historically (for me), some is chop & drop, some goes to the pile, and - depending on what the weed is, how prolific it has been(in relation to my energy, schedule, & currently available space), I am equally as likely to harvest, & eat, or dehydrate for later use in my herbal preparations.
 
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For me it depends on the species of weed, and where it is growing, and what time of year.

For example, as a sunroot breeder, I have sunroots growing all over my garden. Because I can't plant seedlings in the same place the sunroot tubers are already growing, because I might not be able to tell the difference. So the sunroot patch has to move from place to place from year to year. So when I want to reclaim an area of garden where sunroot has previously grown, the sunroots get mowed, pulled, cultivated, stomped on, snuffed out, kicked, shaded. Whatever it takes to eliminate them from the area.

Common milkweed also grows in my garden. It is a preferred host plant for monarch butterflies, so if it is growing in a row, I leave it. If it is growing between rows, I pull it. Milkweed is a plant that pops out of the ground with a satisfying snap. And it usually breaks off many inches below the soil surface. That seems like a better strategy than mowing, or hoeing because it takes much more energy for the plant to recover.

Bindweed is one my most persistent weeds in some areas of the garden, so it gets treated like sunroots, pulled, mowed, hoed. Whatever it takes. The easiest way to deal with bindweed is shading. Squash or corn work really well for that.

I have one species of perennial rhizomous grass that is best dealt with by digging. Loosen the soil, and pull up every piece of root that I can find. I used to have a perennial weed in one of my gardens that was tremendously tenacious. It had shallow rhizomes, so I dug the entire garden, and sieved the soil through a half inch mesh to remove the roots, then paid extra attention to remove any that re-sprouted. It was a new garden.

Then I have lots of perennial weeds that grow timidly, or don't compete much with the vegetables. I don't put much effort into weeding them. They can grow or not. And if any weed is edible, I don't put much effort into weeding it. Can't really go wrong growing a weed that takes care of itself and is edible.

I don't put much effort into weeding after mid-summer. As long as the vegetables have a good head start, then the weeds can grow if they like. I call them a multi-species covercrop. The fields where I allow weeds to grow are much more fertile than the field that I keep near perfectly weeded, even though I grow two cover crops per year in the perfectly weeded field.



 
Susan Wakeman
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Thanks for all the replies!
We didn't get much of a carrot crop due to weeds outcompeting them. So I will treat the carrot/parsnip beds next year to an extra deep mulch of imported compost (easy to have a delivery as there are tons delivered for the fields) and try the false seedbed technique, i.e. hoe once or better twice, letting weed seeds sprout in between. Same treatment for my seedbed.
I plan to do a lot more transplanting next year, multisowing in modules, which get planted with larger distances, so I can plant and mulch first, weed second, so I can feed the soil and minimise weeding at he same time.
My garden partner is paranoid about weeds, even in our wildlife strip... and dock on the field next to the garden gets herbicide. So for that particular plant, probably pull. The rest, pull and drop if they get too big, give to the chickens if they've set seed.
The zone aspect is an important one, chop and drop does require not missing any seed setting weeds! It is also a question of the size of garden you have...
 
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Thank you all. This is another fascinating read and very informative too.
 
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My existing or wild plant associations are pretty much poison oak and a bulb soaproot (Chlorogalum).  Chop and drop of that bulb would be pointless because of its metabolism storing energy 18" deep.  It needs dug up.  That job was a pain in the groin when I got here.  Lots of woodchips manure and a new tool, a trenching shovel have greatly improved the task nowadays.
 
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Linda Woodrow has a whole different method by using a 'chook tractor'.

You construct a portable chicken coop as large as your garden bed. Keep the chooks (Australian for 'chicken') there for maybe a fortnight to eat and dig all your weeds and weed seeds while enriching the soil with their manure. Then move the coop to the next garden bed, and plant your now weed-free enriched garden bed with transplant seedlings. Do this on a rotational basis and you don't ever do any weeding.

It also means healthier, happier chickens.

I don't have the space to try it unfortunately, so I'm doing chop n' drop no-dig weeding. My dandelions are now so strongly anchored to my soil it would be a nightmare to try rip them out. Improving my clay soil's structure is my highest priority and dead weed roots are needed to add organic matter, break up the clay, feed worms and provide water channels.
 
Susan Wakeman
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I have tried the chook tractor method.
However, chickens bring in their own weeds by the feed they consume (grains or scraps) and you must add mulch as they work the ground or it will become compacted. Also, chickens definitely have preferences and exp. established grasses in the seeding stages are at the bottom of their list.
I would absolutely recommend broadforking and a false seedbed before attempting to seed carrots for example.
I seriously doubt you can get away with just planting after the chickens have been, without mulching heavily between the plants and pulling the remaining weeds.
 
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Re: 'How do you deal with perennial, deep rooted weeds such as dock and dandelion in your vegetable garden?'

It depends how enthusiastic I am!

Prefer to 'value add' weeds and give them to the compost bins or the worm farms. If the chooks look hungry or have been good (laying lots of eggs), they'll get them.

Regardless of the chooks getting the weeds, the wilted remnants in their pen will still go 50/50 into the worm/compost bins.

It's rare that anything gets chopped and dropped, except for grape vine cuttings because there are too many for the bins and they take a while to break down. Often they're thrown in the native garden to add to its normal leaf litter.
 
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Have you tried knifing the weeds below ground at the root level? It seems to kill them just as well as ripping them up does, but with less soil disturbance. Think a subsoiler vs a moldboard plough. It's easier as well. A hori-hori is probably the best tool for this but I've used common kitchen or hunting knives to good effect. I usually leave them there to rot down unless they've got seeds on them.
 
Tim Kivi
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Susan Wakeman wrote:I have tried the chook tractor method.
However, chickens bring in their own weeds by the feed they consume (grains or scraps) and you must add mulch as they work the ground or it will become compacted. Also, chickens definitely have preferences and exp. established grasses in the seeding stages are at the bottom of their list.
I would absolutely recommend broadforking and a false seedbed before attempting to seed carrots for example.
I seriously doubt you can get away with just planting after the chickens have been, without mulching heavily between the plants and pulling the remaining weeds.



I love when people like you have actual experience. It seems there's no silver bullet.

When I discover that a weed in my garden is edible, my frame of mind changes and I become happy when I see it. If you view weeding as a chore it's a chore, when you view it as a surprise blessing you feel happy and the problem seems to fade away without anything actually changing.
 
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