Posted by: Lyn in: Weeding between the lines
Onion weed (Nothoscordum inodorum) seems to cause problems for quite a few gardeners who are unsure about organic ways to be rid of this pest. I did cover onion weed previuosly in a post on perennial weeds but, as it is a common problem, it might be worth covering it separately.
It is fairly easy to eradicate it from lawns, by keeping grass growing vigorously. Healthy lawn grass will out-compete onion grass in a fairly short time and no other treatment is necessary. In fact, onion weed in lawns is merely a sign that your lawn needs a bit more TLC.
Onion weed in garden areas is an entirely different problem. Because onion weed is a perennial weed, it stores nutrients and carbohydrates in its bulbs to generate growth in the following season, in the same way as spring bulbs such as daffodils. Trying to pull out or dig up these weeds in garden areas results in the parent bulbs releasing tiny bulbs (bulbils) from the base of the main bulb. These grow into mature plants, and all the digging has achieved is multiplication of the problem.
To get rid of onion weed, you have to prevent the bulbs storing food for growth. Onion weed can also produce seed. Cutting off the foliage at ground level will prevent the plants making carbohydrates in their leaves, and also prevent seed forming.
In an unused garden area, you can do this by slashing, or mowing, the foliage to ground level, then covering the area with black plastic for several months. Anchor the edges of the plastic with planks, bricks or whatever you have to prevent it blowing away. Deprived of moisture and the sunlight that enables it to store carbon dioxide as carbohydrates (photosynthesis), the bulbs will weaken and die. Avoid using clear or light plastic, as these will still allow the plants to photosynthesize and, in some conditions, they can actually improve weed growth.
In garden beds that are being used, onion weed is more difficult to eradicate because the bulbils can be released whenever you disturb the soil. Cut off the foliage at ground level with shears to prevent it making food for the bulbs. Then mulch the beds with 5–7 cm of mulch. You may have to cut back foliage several times as soon as it appears. If you do this consistently, bulb growth will become progressively weaker, and you will eliminate the problem without disturbing the soil and stimulating the growth of more bulbs.
When you have a chance to leave a particular bed lying fallow, you can give the bed the black plastic treatment. Onion weed is more commonly found in undernourished soils, or where soil pH is unsuitable for healthy plant growth. Where onion weed has been a problem, check your soil pH, and improve organic matter content in soil to prevent the problem recurring.