Advice for the Home Gardener from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County
Client's Request: I've heard that I can use yellow corn meal to control weeds. Is this doable and will it hurt the soil?
Help Desk Response: Thank you for contacting the UC Master Gardener Program Help Desk with your question about cornmeal and weeds. I am going to assume that you mean corn meal gluten (CGM), a by-product of corn starch manufacturing that is marketed to home gardeners for pre-emergent control of weeds, especially in lawns. Yellow corn meal makes great polenta, but won't do much for weeds!
University of California research has not shown CGM to be an effective weed control strategy, but in a lawn, it may work because it is high in nitrogen and will feed the lawn, making it more dense, and likely crowding out weeds. Lawns already fed with high nitrogen fertilizers probably won't show any significant benefit from CGM.
CGM will have no effect on already-emerged weeds; it only suppresses some seeds' ability to sprout. It is sometimes used though where only organic herbicides are permitted, but its effectiveness is still questionable. It should not have adverse effects on soil. Because it is high in nitrogen, it could be beneficial if your soil is deficient in that nutrient.
Better weed control can be achieved by heavily mulching the area, which will prevent weed seeds from sprouting. At this time of the year, late winter, when many of our weeds have already come up, you can try hand-pulling or hoeing out the small weeds. They are always easiest to control when they are small. This link will give you great information from UC about weed management in the landscape: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7441.html. The key to successfully reducing the weed problem in future years is to make sure none of this year's weeds go to seed.
Weeds in our gardens are frustrating and seem to be extra-abundant this year because of all the rain we've had. Good luck!
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (SEH)
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Note: The UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/ MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog (http://ucanr.edu/blogs/CCMGBlog/).