In order to become more "green" in our gardening practices, many of us have adopted new gardening practices and abandoned some of the products that we once used exclusively in favor of more "earth-friendly," organic ones.

In order to become more "green" in our gardening practices, many of us have adopted new gardening practices and abandoned some of the products that we once used exclusively in favor of more "earth-friendly," organic ones.

The one area that is the hardest to change for most gardeners is the use of potent herbicides in weed control. This is for two reasons: herbicides are effective and they are tremendous time savers. Weeds need to be controlled. How can we accomplish that goal while not applying gallons of poisonous chemicals to the soil?

The organic method of weed control incorporates several interrelated practices to achieve success. Weed control requires more from the gardener than walking around with a sprayer.

The first step in the battle is to practice prevention. In the fight against weeds, the most important element is to provide the best conditions possible for the growth of desirable plants. Improper watering, soil compaction, insect damage and disease all contribute to weed development.

In my own experience in trying to rid my property of star thistle, I had no success with the conventional control methods. I sprayed gallons of Roundup. I tractor tilled the plants religiously. They came right back, except now in a larger area. I hoed, I prayed, and tried everything short of resorting to nuclear warfare.

Then I got an idea. One fall, I sowed dryland pasture grasses to compete with the thistle. I fertilized as the rains started and the grasses grew so thickly that they crowded out the star thistle. Two wet winters in a row ensured the establishment of the grasses and the exclusion of the undesirables.

The second step is to remove any existing offenders by hand weeding.

Without harming your crops, you can turn the weeds into the soil with a weeding hoe or any version of this time-tested tool. There are many different types available. I've found that no two gardeners agree on the best model. I believe the best hoe is the one that gets used.

Use barriers. Lay plastic down around plants to block weeds. It works well with warm weather-loving crops such as melons, pumpkins, eggplants and tomatoes. Commercial strawberry fields employ this method. An excellent alternative to plastic is newspaper. Really make use of this column! It is organic, it can be turned into the soil and is cheaper than rolls of black plastic. Use a layer about 1/4-inch thick and wet it down as soon as you lay it to stop it from blowing away. Then cover the newspaper with a layer of straw or other organic mulch. I'm not a fan of weed barrier cloths or using any type of barrier in permanently planted areas. I've found that all the barriers stop worm activity, slow the flow of oxygen into the soil and at worst some cloths shed water, especially on slopes.

Live mulches are gaining a lot of respect in the garden. The idea is simple; use a fast-growing low plant to cover the surface of the soil around the garden plants. Thyme is a perfect choice for this method. Another use of living mulch is the cover crop. If you plant rye or buckwheat in the fall, it will protect the soil from erosion all winter, add lots of good organic material to your soil when composted in the spring, and won't allow weeds a spot to get established.

If you still find need to spray, try organic products like Burnout or Weed-Aside. Agricultural vinegar (stronger than household vinegar) has proven effective on many seedling weeds. If you decide to try a flame-throwing device, please be careful! Definitely don't burn dry weeds during our dry summers! They can be great for getting those weeds that like to grow in driveway cracks and between stepping-stones.

Corn gluten meal can be applied as a pre-emergent weed preventative. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of dandelions, crabgrass and many other annual weeds that grow from seed.

If you try these organic methods to control weeds, your "green" garden will exclude a lot of the plants that compete with your favorites. Maybe it's not so hard being green.

Stan Mapolski, aka The Rogue Gardener, can be heard from 9-10 a.m. Saturday mornings on KMED 1440 AM and seen in periodic gardening segments for KTVL Channel 10 News. Reach him at