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Howard Garrett’s View on Weeds


 Howard Garrett is one of Spray-N-Grow’s favorite gardening authorities because of his common-sense approach to natural gardening. Garrett is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host with a gardening program called “The Natural Way”, which is also the name of his weekly Dallas Morning News column. He is a Texas Tech University graduate in parks administration and landscape architecture. Garrett has written 14 books, with two more in the works. The following excerpt is from J. Howard Garrett’s “Organic Manual”.


“Have you ever read anything good about the weeds? Unless you’ve read Malcom Beck’s Lessons in Nature or Charles Walters’ Weeds, probably not!

Weeds are nature’s greatest and most diverse group of plants. Even though many members of the weed fraternity are beautiful, man has been convinced by the herbicide fraternity to condemn the weeds and consider them his enemy. Mention weeds and most people think in terms of control through spraying chemicals. They rarely think of why the weeds grow or of their value.

Weeds are here on earth for very specific purposes. Different weeds have different jobs to do. Some are here to ensure that the soil always has the protection of a green blanket to shade and cool the ground. Others are here to prevent the erosion of bare soil. Others are here to help balance the minerals in the soil. Many weeds provide all these important functions. Weeds take no chances. They germinate and spread to protect any soil left bare by man’s mismanagement of the land. In every cubic foot of soil lie millions of weed seeds waiting to germinate when needed. When man strips the green growth off the land, weeds are needed. When hard winters freeze the ornamental lawn grasses, weeds are needed. When we mow too low and apply harsh chemicals to the soil, weeds are needed.

If it weren’t for weeds, the topsoil of the earth would have eroded away years ago. Much of the topsoil has already gone from our farms forever to muddy our rivers and fill our lakes and eventually end up in the ocean.

It’s a common misunderstanding that weeds rob our crops of moisture, sunlight, and nutrients. Weeds only borrow water and nutrients and eventually return it all to the soil for future crop use.

Weeds are tough. Rarely do you find weeds destroyed by insects or disease. Some weeds are pioneer plants as they are able to grow in soil unsuited for edible or domesticated plants. Weeds are able to build the soil with their strong powerful roots that go deep, penetrating and loosening hard packed soil. The deep roots bring minerals, especially trace elements, from the subsoil to the topsoil.

Weeds are indicators of certain soil deficiencies and actually collect or manufacture certain mineral elements that are lacking in the soil. This is nature’s wonderful way of buffering and balancing the chemistry of soil.

Some weeds are good companion plants. Some have insect-repelling abilities, while others with deep roots help surface-feeding plants obtain moisture during dry spells. Weeds act as straws to bring water up from the deep, moist soil so that shallow-rooted plants get some of the moisture.

Control becomes necessary when the vigorous weeds become too numerous in the fields and gardens. However, not understanding the dangers of spraying chemicals into the environment, many farmers, gardeners, and landscape people have primarily used powerful, toxic herbicides. Most herbicides upset or unbalance the harmony of the soil organisms, and some herbicides can persist in the soil for months. Even though microbes can repopulate after chemical treatment damage, they are slow to re-establish the complicated, natural balance.

There are safe and nonpolluting weed control methods such as mechanically aerating, mulching with organic materials, and using organic fertilizers to stimulate the growth of more desirable plants. The old, reliable methods of hand weeding, hoeing, and timely cultivating are not yet against the law and are good exercise.

The best weed control in turf is the following: Water deeply but infrequently, fertilize with 100% organic fertilizers, mow at a higher setting (2″ – 3″), and leave the clippings on the ground. Easy and effective weed control in the ornamental and vegetable beds is done by keeping a thick blanket of mulch on the bare soil at all times. Remember that clover, wild violets, and other herbs and wildflowers should sometimes be encouraged. Many plants that start out looking like noxious weeds end up presenting beautiful flower displays and wonderful fragrances.

Weed control starts with a new attitude about weeds. A few are acceptable, even beneficial.


To purchase a copy of Howard Garrett’s Organic Manual, click here.

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