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Organic Control of Common Weeds (1993 Aird Books, revised edition 1997)

This book tells you why weeds aren't an enemy - and how to control them with everything from the vampire technique to boiling water, 'natural' home grown herbicides, various simple mulches, solarisation, steam..and dozens of others ways.

Weed Myths
Myth No.1
Weeds are bad guys.

On the contrary - humans are the bad guys. Weeds attempt to correct the mess that humans have made.

Weeds are colonisers. They invade disturbed land - and that land has usually been disturbed by incompetent human usage, though you do get natural weed invasions after flood, fire and storm.

Weeds stabilise disturbed ground so that other species - eventually - can take their place. Weeds are, in effect, natural bandaids.

This is not much consolation to a farmer, who clears a paddock - or overgrazes it - and gets Patterson's Curse and thistles - or to a gardener who has mown their lawn too short or tried to grow grass under shady trees and ended up with an oxalis carpet instead. It's even less consolation when you inherit the fruits of someone else's mismanagement (we've been trying to undo a century of land abuse on this place for the last quarter of a century). But it is essential to any weed management to understand why weeds are there - not as an alien invasion, but as (temporary) cover.

Myth No.2
Weeds are just plants growing in the wrong place.

Weeds are plants growing in the RIGHT place - which is why they become weeds. No plant is a weed all the time. (Though come to think of it I'm not sure where thistles are valued - except as the floral emblem of Scotland.)

Myth No.3
'A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.' Waldo Emerson, and much quoted since.

Not exactly. ALL weeds have some virtues - and some are very virtuous indeed, like blackberry whose fruit makes one of the most glorious jellies the world has seen, which stabilises overgrazed and eroded ground magnificently and provides shelter and safe nesting sites for small birds - but if I had twenty wishes, one of them would be to get rid of blackberry on our place, virtues and all.

A plant can be virtuous and still be a weed - it is simply that its disadvantages outweigh its virtues. Weeds may take over land you want for something else, poison stock, harbour pests, edge out more useful or more attractive species... I know I've said that weeds aren't villains and that they ALWAYS have a useful to role to play - but there are STILL MANY TIMES YOU WANT TO REPLACE THEM WITH OTHER PLANTS - which is why, of course, I've written this book.

Myth No.4
There is no such thing as a weed.

Well, not exactly either. You can't give a list of plants and say these are ALWAYS weeds - though you can give a list of plants that are declared noxious weeds in various States and if you don't do something about them you're in trouble. But even these weeds are not ALWAYS weeds.

You can, however, give a description of what makes a weed. Weeds usually breed fast; they spread beyond their natural habitat taking the place of other species; they are usually unpalatable to humans and other animals (something that animals love to munch on rarely survives to be a weed). Not all weeds have all these characteristics - couch grass for example is an enormously troublesome weed, and so is paspalum, but both are happily chomped by many grazers - but both do share the other characteristics.

Myth No.5
You need herbicides to effectively get rid of weeds.

Herbicides DON"T effectively get rid of weeds - though they can be useful bandaids if their side effects aren't worse than the problem.

Herbicides TEMPORARILY get rid of weeds - all too often leaving bare ground behind. Which also happens with poor pasture or bad cultivation practices in vegie or flower gardens - then the weed seeds or roots regrow in the bare ground - and the problem is as bad as it ever was - till you apply herbicide again.


The Eight Rules of Effective Weed Control
1. Work out why the weeds have invaded - and correct the problem. THERE IS ALWAYS A REASON.

2. Work out HOW the weeds have invaded ie over the edge of your garden, in mulch, stock feed - and make sure it doesn't happen again.

3. START SMALL - if you clear great spaces without filling them with grass, flowers, vegie, trees et al, you'll just get weeds leaping in to do what they do best - stabilise the disturbed soil again

4. There are always several ways to tackle any weed problem. Work out a list of strategies and, if necessary, combine them.

5. What will happen if the weed isn't eradicated? Many weeds can be left (especially annuals where good growing practice may mean they won't reappear next year). Others need to be removed AT ONCE before they spread. Others like blackberry may need to be managed then eradicated.

6. DON"T PANIC. The problem may look insouble - it isn't.

7. Don't look for magic solutions. Fairy Godmothers have turned frogs into princes and let maidens sleep for a hundred years - but no fairy story has ever even dared assume that ANYONE has a magic solution to weed control. Weed control is ALWAYS a lot of work - herbicides or not. In fact fairy stories are better at providing weeds (cf the brambles in 'The Sleeping Beauty') than at removing them.

8. Don't try to use land for something it isn't suited for. If your land is persistently going to weeds, it's trying to tell you something. Listen.

Cost Effective Labour
Many people - from farmers to gardeners - assume that herbicides are more effective than tilling weeds by hand. This is not necessarily so.

If you are ever tempted to use a herbicde, do your sums first. Work out how much you'll need; how much it will cost. Work out how long it will take to apply it and how much that will cost in labour.

Now work out how much it will take/cost to get rid of the weeds by hand.

In most cases, it's cheaper without the herbicides.and if you don't want to do it.... well, labour is one thing the world isn't short of - pay wages instead of herbicide bills.