Plant Answers  >  Weed and Bird Control

Weed and Bird Control

There are two things common to every garden in Texas. These include, and not necessarily in order of quantity, bugs by the millions and weeds. The bugs have to be controlled as soon as they appear, but the weeds can be avoided.

Weeds in a garden compete with your desirable plants for water, nutrients, sunlight, and air circulation. They also serve as a breeding ground for disease and insects that attack garden plants.

Old writings show that weeds have plagued man since the earliest times and that most societies would, quite literally, try anything to rid their crops of weeds. Throughout the centuries, farmers have resorted to prayers and charms, mechanical means, fire and chemical control. Meanwhile, authorities have enacted legislation which punishes farmers who allowed certain weeds to
flourish among their crops.

Most societies had deities to which they prayed for the general health and success of their crops. There were specific gods, such as Spiniensis, who the Romans would invoke to keep thorns out of their fields. Charms and magic were sometimes used, and Roman farmers placed sea-shells or tiles with the figure of Hercules strangling the Nemean lion at the corners and center of infested fields. Other methods for keeping crops free from dodder and bindwind included soaking the seed grain in the blood of a rooster. Or, a virgin with unbound hair carried a yellow and black rooster around the fields.

According to the 12th century writer Ibn-Al-Awam, farmers in Muslim countries believed that land weeded with a copper fork that had been tempered in the blood of a billy-goat would remain weed-free. Ibn-Al-Awam also recorded the construction of a magical talisman from wax, mummy dust, and sparrow's blood for selectively killing weeds and thorns in infested crops.

Goats and copper are too expensive, and virgins with unbound hair are in too much demand to be used or weeding. Home gardeners are now using mechanical removal, mulching and chemical control to eliminate weeds.

Mechanical removal, which often means simply chopping the weeds down with a sharp hoe, controls only those weeds present at the time of hoeing, and therefore it must be repeated several times during the growing season. It is best done when the ground is moist but not wet, and when the weeds are no more than 1 to 2 inches high.

Garden weeds should be shaved off with a sharp hoe while gently breaking the crust of the soil. Digging deeply into the soil to remove weeds may damage established plants and might also bring a fresh crop of weed seeds to the surface.

While mechanical removal controls weeds after they have appeared, mulching has the advantage of helping to control weeds before they break ground. A layer of mulch prevents light from reaching the weed seedlings. Mulches are especially effective for controlling annual weeds and are helpful for controlling some perennials (weeds which grow from underground plant structures every year).

Organic mulches are good because, along with controlling weeds, they return organic matter and nutrients to the soil and improve soil tilth. Straw, leaves, and dry grass clippings are suitable organic mulches. More information about using mulches can be found at:

The use of naturally occurring substances was suggested as a practical weed control method by Democritus in the 5th century B.C. He theorized that trees could be killed by treating their roots with a mixture of lupin flowers soaked in hemlock juice.

Similarly, Varro, a Roman agriculturist writing in the first century B.C., noted that vegetation was killed in the vicinity of olive presses. He suggested that the amurca, the watery residue remaining after the oil had been expressed from the fruit, could be used to kill weeds.

Using salt from the sea or salt mines has been known to kill plants since biblical times. Salt was applied to the fields of vanquished enemies to destroy their crops and desolate their fields for years to come. The fields of Carthage was thus treated by the Romans in 146 B.C. Many homeowners still annihilate houseplants and damage growing areas by watering with softened water that contains sodium salts.

The use of chemicals for weed control has since advanced to a highly technical, very sophisticated state. Herbicides are widely used by commercial vegetable producers, but not generally recommended for use by backyard gardeners. Herbicides that do have garden use include general purpose, wide-spectrum types such as Dacthal. However, each must be used in exact accordance with label directions if they are to be effective and not cause problems later on.

Gardeners should remember that when they arm themselves with determination, a strong back, a good mulch, a sharp hoe, and a safe, recommended garden herbicide, they can rid their garden of that age-old problem--weeds! Yet, it seems that about the time you get one pest under control another one pops up! This time of the year it seems like almost everyone has a garden.

MOST gardeners like to grow tomatoes; ALL birds seem to enjoy the great taste and flavor of garden fresh, vine ripe tomatoes! Birds are not much of a garden problem until tomatoes start to ripen. Then they are a real nuisance. Often birds find the ripe tomatoes before the gardeners do. It would not be so bad if they would just eat a few holes in a few tomatoes. But, what do they do? They eat holes in EVERY tomato about the time it starts to turn red. These holes or damaged spots end up being infested by various types of insects and rot-type diseases. The result is quite obvious -- there is a whole lot less tomatoes for the dinner table.

Home gardeners can use various methods in their attempt to prevent bird damage on tomatoes. Scarecrows, aluminum pie plates, strings of brightly colored ribbons and various types of noise- makers are used. Unfortunately, in a very short period of time, the birds are resting on the shoulders of the scarecrows, swinging on the strings of ribbon, ignoring the noise-makers and admiring themselves in the reflective aluminum plates.

What can be done about bird damage? Well, one method which does work is to make use of old stockings or panty hose. This is done by cutting the nylon stockings or panty hose into about 15 to 20 inch lengths. Then one end should be tied shut. Next, the resulting tubs should be slipped over a cluster of tomatoes. The open end is closed by using a twist tie or a short piece of string. If the tomatoes are not full size, the elastic nature of the panty hose or stocking will expand as the fruits enlarge. When the fruits ripen, they can easily be harvested by untying the closed end, and removing the red tomatoes. It's of utmost importance to place the hose or stocking tube over the cluster of tomatoes well before the tomatoes ever start to turn red. If the problem is not anticipated in advance, the birds will get there before the gardener does.

Another method of protecting tomatoes from bird damage is to harvest the fruit when they are pink rather than full red. Most gardeners will not believe it, but a tomato picked at the pink stage and ripened at room temperature has exactly the same taste and flavor as one fully ripened on the vine.

So don't let the birds rob you after you have worked so hard to control the weeds and produce what will hopefully be a bountiful harvest.



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