Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

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How can I control weeds in my vegetable garden?

Weeds compete with your plants for water, light and nutrients and can reduce yields. They are also hosts for many insects and diseases that can attack your garden plants.

The common way to control weeds is to cultivate the soil. Lightly stir the top inch of soil between rows and around your plants taking care not to injure plants or their roots. Cultivation destroys weed seedlings and helps dry the soil surface to discourage weed seeds from sprouting.

Another method of weed control is to use mulch. Mulches block sunlight and prevent weed seeds from germinating. Place two to four inches of organic material such as straw, grass clippings (collected only from an herbicide free lawn), shredded bark, wood chips, sawdust, or cocoa bean hulls, around the plants and between the rows. The coarser the material, the thicker the layer should be. Apply mulches to cool weather crops such as cabbage, peas and lettuce when you plant, to maintain cool soil temperatures. Wait until the ground warms to mulch warm weather crops such as squash, peppers, and tomatoes.

Organic mulches will not only control weeds, but also add nutrients and organic matter to the soil, keep the soil cool in hot weather, and prevent compaction.

Inorganic mulches such as black plastic and weed barriers can be used in place of organic mulches but they do not add nutrients to the soil. They are useful, however, when you want to warm the soil for earlier planting of warm weather crops such as melons, tomatoes and squash. Non-perforated black plastic does not let water and air through to the soil, so apply it only to moist soils. Cut slits in the plastic for planting holes. These holes will allow entry locations for watering and rain.

Weed barriers are woven fabrics that let air and water through to the roots. They are best put down when you plant. Anchor them with wickets, soil or rocks to hold them in place.

Slugs can be a problem in mulched areas that are cool, dark, and damp. Use shallow pans of stale beer to trap the slugs.