Seedling with True Leaves
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In spring, as vegetable gardeners gear up to sow crops of homegrown produce, dormant weed seeds lie buried in the soil, ready to sprout the instant the right conditions occur. And sprout they will, leaving fledgling beans, zucchini, herbs and tomatoes to compete with fast-growing, naturally-adapted weeds for space, water and nutrients in the garden.
Ironically, the very act of preparing a vegetable garden encourages weeds. Turning and tilling the soil, and creating the furrows in which to plant vegetable seeds, exposes these dormant weed seeds to the light they need to germinate and grow.
Most gardeners know to lay down a layer of mulch atop garden soil to deny weed seeds the sunlight they need to sprout. Fewer know that there’s an organic pre-emergent option for vegetable gardens that can effectively double the weed-fighting power of mulch.
Research at Iowa State University found that corn gluten has properties that prevent seeds from germinating, making it an effective organic pre-emergent weed preventer for food crops, usable all season long, right up to the day of harvest.
An easy-to-apply granular corn gluten option is Preen Natural Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer, which comes in jug-handled bottle with a flip-top shake applicator. Sprinkled atop garden soil or mulch, Organic Preen stops weed seeds there from sprouting for up to four weeks per application. During that period, it also stops weed seeds carried in by wind, birds and animals.
Pre-emergents don’t kill weeds. They’re weed preventers. So existing weeds must be removed manually or killed by other means.
It’s important to remember that pre-emergent weed preventers don’t distinguish between weed seeds and vegetable seeds. Gardeners planting vegetable seeds should apply pre-emergent once their young vegetable plants are fully-emerged, have attained a height of close to three inches and exhibit what are called “true leaves” (the stage beyond the initial leaf-like furls that tiny sprouts put out).