Given the opportunity, a gardener can reduce that seed bank, which is sitting there, just waiting for conditions to be right to sprout. More than 90 percent of our weed seed germinate in the spring, so we should focus on seed germination prevention, dealing with the weeds while they are just seedlings and easily removed.
Gardeners can create a stale seedbed by very lightly and shallowly working the very surface of the soil repeatedly, causing seed to germinate until the seed bank in that layer is exhausted. Others will use a quality mulch/compost to keep those seeds in the dark to prevent germination. If there is time and space to do soil solarization in your growing rotation, then that becomes a real option.
That chickweed mentioned earlier can produce 25,000 seeds that immediately fall to the soil. University of Massachusetts lists our troublesome crabgrass as producing about 150,000 seeds every year. Crabgrass is not limited to growing in the lawn either.
Some easily are seen as they spread. Picture those white puffy dandelion heads blowing across the yard like mini tumbleweed or floating up in the wind one by one. Besides dandelion, sow thistle and groundsel also are windborne, according to the WSSA. Other weeds do not spread themselves around so obviously. For example, chickweed, a winter annual, happily produces seed for weeks and just drops them down to the soil below. Very few annual weed seeds move in other ways.
One gardening phrase that has been around for decades, if not generations, is “one year’s seeding – seven years weeding,” and that is a conservative estimate actually. According to the Weed Science Society of America, there are plenty of weed seeds that can remain viable in the soil for decades!
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On the danger of allowing weeds to grow and seed themselves: also used figuratively. □ 1866 Rural American 1 Dec. .
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This little seedling of the Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is one of the small forest that germinates in my garden each spring. The maples are a constant reminder of the old chestnut (as in: saying) in the title.
By the same token, if you’ve been weeding: don’t add ripe weed seeds to your compost pile, unless your pile gets hot enough to kill them.
Others have to be helped along by techniques such as pre-soaking or by nicking the seed coat. The seed packet will recommend your best strategy for this. Don’t skip that step.
Back to the Norway maple. It produces a truckload of viable seeds, meaning seeds that will sprout. (As an aside, the lovely native sugar maple, A. saccharum, is very stingy with its own – which has helped the Norways run rampant through our naturalized ravines.)
I can’t do anything about deadheading trees, and don’t have room to create a nice hot compost pile. Plus, my yearly mulch of uncomposted maple leaves will always contain seeds.