Of weeds and vinegar in gardens

While our weather patterns are not making national news, we are having as strange weather this spring as the East Coast had all winter.

Here in the Rogue Valley, we went from breaking from dormancy into bud early, then descended into an extended winter season. Really, can you call it anything else when we are rushing around with frost protection at dusk?

So, the best I can say right now is that my peas are doing fine. The second-best thing is that my tomatoes and eggplant have not frozen to death. The third best thing is that I got tired of watering the cell pack of basil starts and finally put them in the ground on Monday. Hopefully they can keep up with the predation of finches and slugs until warm weather gets them growing.

If I had a bigger, cool-weather garden, I would be bragging about my spinach, lettuce and kale. I could speak of my forest of arugula, but anyone in this region can have that if they like.

My garden usually blossoms a little behind the norm because of all the shade it receives from big trees in the south and east, so in this extended, cool weather it looks pretty ragged. The roses are black-spotted, and I haven't replaced the missing plants killed by last fall's deep cold spell. The frosts of early spring killed off the first growth of the Oriental poppies, so all I have now are some small leaves. I can't bear to go on!

For good news, I'll turn to my weed-killing activities. Although I'm right-handed, I tend to pull weeds with my left hand. After a particularly aggressive session earlier this year, I ended up with tendonitis. I wrapped my arm in an elastic bandage for weeks while the weeds grew fearlessly. I decided enough is enough and went for a chemical control.

My choice was BurnOut II, a vinegar-and-spice concoction that promises "Non-Selective Control of Herbaceous Broadleaf and Grass Weeds." Basically, that means it will kill everything, providing you put enough on. It's got a "Caution" label, the least threatening of the three warnings.

Caution means the product is slightly hazardous by any of the routes of entry (eyes, skin, mouth, nose). Warning means it is moderately hazardous by at least one route of entry. Danger tells you the product is highly hazardous by at least one route of entry. Please remember these words of wisdom only refer to acute symptoms "… things that happen within hours, not chronic issues. That means use caution every time you chose a chemical, natural or synthetic.

The container has a fancy cut-out label added on to the spout, announcing it is a "Pet Approved Brand." I'm not sure exactly what that means. I treated the area I sprayed like any other chemically treated area and kept my animals away. The bottle states protective eyewear and clothing that covers the body be worn along with neoprene type gloves. The acid, especially in the concentrate form, can damage eyes and exposed skin. I'm sure that means animals, and I don't think my pack wants to wear shoes or eyegear.

BurnOut II is all-natural, containing vinegar, lemon extracts and clove oil and it smells great. It did kill the grasses that were growing in the patio area. To protect the plants I didn't want damaged, I sprayed on a windless day (and yes, that required a challenging amount of patience). I also carried a poster board around with me, which I wrapped around my ornamentals when spraying near them. I didn't use this in the food areas, although you can.

According to the easy-to-read book, "The Truth about Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't and Why," by Jeff Gillman, Ph.D., even home vinegar will kill plants, especially when applied at 100-percent concentration. The problem is that perennial weeds will grow back. This also is true about my much more expensive version. The remedy of course, is reapplication. This I am willing to do, as holding on to a spray bottle is a lot less painful than pulling out weeds with tendonitis.

So much for this spring. My next column will be written in June. I do trust that the weather will have finally shifted. I'm just not sure to what season we'll be in then.

Master gardener Althea Godfrey is gardening editor for HomeLife magazine. Reach her at writealthea@charter.net.

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