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» WSSA » Weeds » Articles on Garden Weeds » NEVER LET ‘EM SET SEED Have you ever wished you could grow vegetables without hours of weeding? If you are like most gardeners, I bet you have. The Weed and Seed Strategy This report presents an overview on the Weed and Seed Strategy developed under the U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Weed and Seed, a multi-agency initiative Seed, Feed and Weed to Succeed In my earlier article I used the sports management analogy to make the case for actively managing the skills, skill levels and composition of your team. In this

» WSSA » Weeds » Articles on Garden Weeds » NEVER LET ‘EM SET SEED

Have you ever wished you could grow vegetables without hours of weeding? If you are like most gardeners, I bet you have. The good news is that with a bit of dedicated effort, you can reduce the weeding you do year by year until your vegetable garden is virtually weed-free.

Have you ever wished you could grow vegetables without hours of weeding? If you are like most gardeners, I bet you have. The good news is that with a bit of dedicated effort, you can reduce the weeding you do year by year until your vegetable garden is virtually weed-free.

The key is to know a bit about something called the “weed seed bank” and how to manage it. Most people don’t realize that a weed can produce literally thousands – or even millions – of seeds per plant. Early in my career as a university professor, I conducted research to document the number of seeds coming from even a single weed plant. The accompanying chart shows the results were pretty stunning. And all those seeds fall to the ground and become part of a “seed bank” that fuels new weed growth.

The weed seed bank is central to the “never let ’em set seed” rationale. Seeds “in the bank” can remain viable for quite a long time and sprout when conditions are right. That means it will take several years for you to reach your weed-free goal.

How many years? The answer depends on the weed species growing in your garden. Seeds of most annual weedy grasses die after two or three years, but some broadleaf weed seeds can last for decades. On average, though, the bulk of your weed seed bank will be depleted in about five years if no additional seeds are added. That means diligence is the key. Never let one weed go to seed or you will be back to square one!

What about seeds blown onto your garden or dropped there by birds? They shouldn’t be a big problem. The seeds for most weed species drop directly to the ground, close to the mother plant. There are only a few bad actors with windborne seed, such as dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus) and groundsel (Senecio vulgaris). And it is rare for annual weed seeds to be spread by birds. It’s a bit of gardening lore that isn’t substantiated by fact.

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To hasten the path to a weed-free garden, I recommend a two-pronged strategy: drive down the number of viable seeds in the soil and quickly intervene when those that remain sprout. I grow between 70% and 80% of the vegetables my wife and I eat, and I now spend almost no time weeding them. I have managed to drive down the seed bank using solarization, mulching, hoeing and hand pulling. In case you haven’t heard of solarization, it involves covering the soil with a clear plastic tarp for several weeks in the summer to heat the soil and kill weed seeds. It may sound farfetched, but it works.

While there is never a 100% guarantee in the natural world, if you follow a “never let ’em set seed” strategy, I can virtually guarantee that you will soon be doing a lot less weeding in future years.

This column is provided as a courtesy by the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA). The author Robert Norris is an avid gardener and a professor emeritus in the Plant Sciences at the University of California at Davis.

Examples of Weed Seed Production per Plant*
Weed name Seeds per plant Where the plant
was located
Barnyardgrass, Echinochloa crus-galli 750,000 Davis, CA
Purslane, Portulaca oleracea > 2,000,000 Davis, CA
Black nightshade, Solanum ptycanthum > 800,000 Rosemount, MN
Puncturevine, Tribulus terrestris > 100,000 Pullman, WA
Powell amaranth, Amaranthus powellii 268,000 Freeville, NY
Shepherd’s purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris 40,000 Sheffield, UK
Chickweed, Stellaria media 25,000 Rothamsted, UK

* Data collected by various researchers around the globe.

A Note about Perennial Weeds

Most of the perennial weeds that plague perennial flower gardens and lawns need more than the “never let ’em set seed” rule for effective control. Many perennial weeds grow from underground roots or tubers – making the path to weed-free perennial gardening much tougher. Not only should you prevent seed production, but you need to control the roots and tubers, too. Frequent removal of the shoots of perennial weeds will eventually starve and kill the underground tissues. You’ll need to be especially persistent and use a variety of control methods to reach your goal. If necessary, this can also be achieved with the careful use of appropriate herbicides.

Weed and Seed Strategy

This report presents an overview on the Weed and Seed Strategy developed under the U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Weed and Seed, a multi-agency initiative in crime control and prevention.

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Operation Weed and Seed was developed in 1991 by the U.S. Department of Justice as a strategy based on four fundamental principles: collaboration, coordination, community participation, and leveraging resources with a multi-agency approach to law enforcement, crime prevention, and neighborhood restoration. The approach is two-fold. First, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors must work together to “weed out” criminals from a specific target area. Then, the “seeding” process begins and brings prevention, intervention, treatment, and neighborhood revitalization services to the area. The Weed and Seed Strategy requires some key elements: (1) a steering committee to offer a governing structure for the initiative and (2) a strategic plan developed by assessing community problems and needs, sound resolutions and responses, and obtaining the necessary resources and participation. Today, Weed and Seed has grown to more than 300 high-crime neighborhoods across the country.

Seed, Feed and Weed to Succeed

In my earlier article I used the sports management analogy to make the case for actively managing the skills, skill levels and composition of your team. In this note I’ll discuss the topic of how to manage those activities. For this, we’ll leave sports and use a gardening analogy.

Even a novice gardener would not expect to rake some soil, throw some seeds, pray for rain and wait for a beautiful garden. Your team is no different; you must undertake the same activities in managing your team as you would in creating a successful garden.

Selecting the right flowers for our garden means paying attention not only to how they look, but how they will interact with the other flowers in our garden; will they steal too many nutrients or will the soil properly support their needs?

Managers in hyper-growth companies spend a lot of time interviewing and selecting candidates but usually not very much time on a per candidate basis and even less time pondering where they’ve gone wrong in hiring in the past. Finding the right individual for your job means paying attention to your past failures in hiring and correcting them. We might interview for skills, but overlook critical items like cultural or team fit. Why have you had to remove people? Why have people decided to leave?

Candidate selection also means paying attention to the needs of the organization from a productivity and quality perspective. Do you really need another engineer or product manager, or do your pipeline inefficiencies indicate additional process definition needs, tools engineers or quality assurance personnel?

One final point here is that far too often we try to make hiring decisions after we’ve spent 30 minutes to an hour with a candidate. We encourage you to spend as much time as possible with the candidate and try to make a good hire the first time. Seek help in interviewing or add people whom you trust and whom have great interviewing skills to your interview team to increase your chances of a good hire the first time. Call previous managers and peers and be mindful to ask and prod for weaknesses of individuals in your background checks.

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Feeding your garden means spending time growing your team. Of all the practices in tending to your team, this is the one that is most often overlooked for lack of time.

The intent of feeding is to help grow the members of your team who are producing to the expectations of your shareholders. Feeding consists of coaching, praising, correcting technique or approach, adjusting compensation and equity and anything else that creates a stronger and more productive employee.

Feeding your garden also means taking individuals who might not be performing well in one position and putting them into positions where they can perform well. However, if you find yourself moving an employee more than once it is likely that you are avoiding the appropriate action of weeding.

Also, feeding your garden means raising the bar on the team overall and helping them achieve greater levels of success. Great teams enjoy great but achievable challenges and it’s your job as a manager and executive to challenge them to be the best they can be.

While you should invest as much as possible in seeding and feeding, we all know that underperforming and nonperforming individuals choke team productivity just as surely as weeds steal vital nutrients from the producers within your garden. The nutrients that are being stolen in this case are the time that you spend attempting to coach underperforming individuals to an acceptable performance level and the time your team spends compensating for an underperforming individual’s poor results.

Weeding our gardens is often the most painful activity for most managers and executives and as a result it is often the one to which we tend last.

While you must abide by your company’s practices regarding the removal of people who are not performing (these practices vary not only by country but very often by state), it is vital that you find ways to quickly remove personnel who are keeping you and the rest of your team from achieving your objectives. The sooner you remove them, the sooner you can find an appropriate replacement and get your team where it needs to be.

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