UGA Vegetable Scientist Recommends Organic Mulches for Weed Control

May 15, 2019

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If they start now, Georgia organic farmers can use mulch and cultivation to manage young weeds, according to Juan Carlos Diaz-Perez, vegetable scientist on the University of Georgia Tifton campus. If weeds are not controlled successfully and are allowed to grow throughout May and June, they can compete with crops for nutrients, water and sunlight.
 
“In organic management, you don’t have access to many weapons for weed control. You have to make use of prevention,” Diaz-Perez said. “With weed management, the younger the weed is, the easier it is to control it. The younger your crop is and the more it is allowed to have weeds as competitors, the more damage weeds will inflict on the crop. Usually our crops are most susceptible to weeds when they are young.”
 
In traditional farming practices, growers normally apply herbicides throughout the year to kill weeds without damaging the crop.
 
Broccoli grown on the UGA Tifton Campus is pictured growing on wheat straw mulch, plastic mulch and on bare soil.
Because organic farmers do not use chemical means to control weeds, they can use alternative methods throughout the growing season, according to Diaz-Perez. Practices such as cultivation with a tractor or hoe, hand-pulling weeds and using organic mulches or plastic film mulches serve as effective weed control measures.
 
Diaz-Perez recommends organic mulches, like wheat or pine straw, because they can reduce weed growth significantly, allow the rain to penetrate the soil, and they are sustainable. Organic mulches decompose, providing organic matter to soil and nutrients to microbes, and don’t add pollution to the soil like plastic.
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