Living Columns & Blogs

Ask a Gardener: Use these two natural fighters in the on-going battle against weeds

Tall rye grass grows between rows of grapevines to protect and nourish the soil at La Buena Vida Vineyards in Texas. Rye works particularly well as a weed inhibitor.
Tall rye grass grows between rows of grapevines to protect and nourish the soil at La Buena Vida Vineyards in Texas. Rye works particularly well as a weed inhibitor. Star-Telegram file

Question: I heard the term “allelopathy” used as something to do with controlling weeds. What is it, and how does it work?

Answer: Allelopathy is growing a plant that inhibits the growth of another. The use of allelopathy to control weeds is a growing practice as people learn about it.

Many plants have allelopathic effects. Probably the best know is the black walnut tree. It’s virtually impossible to grow anything under or around it. It’s the plant’s biochemical strategy to eliminate competition from other plants.

Weed scientists have shown the allelopathic effect in many plants, including sunflowers, oats, alfalfa, cucumbers, tobacco and rye.

Rye works particularly well as a weed inhibitor. Rye not only produces the benefits of a mulch, such as increased soil moisture, greater microbial activity, and buffered soil temperatures, it also provides biochemical weed control. Weeds killed by rye include redroot, pigweed, purslane, foxtail and ragweed.

As a home gardener you can use allelopathy in your fight against weeds. Plant a fall crop of rye. In the spring, mow or chop the rue down.

An alternative plan is to grow a cover crop of rye in an empty garden area, mow it monthly, and spread the cuttings between the rows of growing vegetables. Orchards can have rye planted between trees,

Though rye will not control all weeds, it will definitely help to reduce overall weed populations. That, and all the other benefits, might encourage you to try it in your yard.

Question: My lawn is looking sad. What would be a good way to perk it up, without using nasty chemicals?

Answer: In two words: corn gluten; it’s an organic way to accomplish two things. One, it’s a pre-emergent natural herbicide and kills newly-emerging weeds. Two, it is a needed shot of nitrogen to help you lawn recover its vigor.

You can find it in nurseries and big-box stores. The easiest way to apply it is by using either a hand-held or rolling spreader.

After you have applied it, water it in well. And wave good-bye to many of those little weeds!

Question: I know it’s not the right time to transplant, but a property line adjustment is forcing me to do it. Any thought about best approach?

Answer: You’re right about the timing: it’s not the best. But sometimes rules have to be broken.

The most crucial thing you can to is the keep the newly transplanted plant’s soil continually moist to combat the lack of rain this time of year. Short of watering numerous times each day, fill a 1-gallon zip lock freezer bag with the water and poke a hole with a safety pin in the bottom. This creates a continuous very slow drip for the plant.

Continue to water this way until the rains start. And good luck!

Question: Have you ever heard of an easy way to organize recipes for vegetables? I grow lots of vegetables, but get frustrated looking through all my recipes for new ways to use them.

Answer: A few years ago I chanced upon a splendid way to get all my many clipped recipes for veggies organized so that it would be easy to find them, rather than sifting through recipes for breads, soups, etc.

I simply filed each recipe alphabetically by its individual ingredient, so that there is a separate file for chard, spinach, tomato, etc. So with the bountiful amount of spinach I’d just harvested, I look under S, and find the recipes for spinach.

It works! Now I don’t have to waste time digging through recipes I don’t want right then. And there was an unanticipated result, as well. We’re now eating more veggies, prepared in more interesting ways!

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a life-long gardener and Master Gardener. Her column will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you’d like answered in the column, please email it to For more gardening information online, go to