Garden weeds rob sunlight, soil nutrients, water and growing space from your plants and can harbor pests and disease all of which can lead to a less fruitful harvest. While it’s impossible to completely do away with them, this page will teach you how to reduce their impact to nothing more than an occasional annoyance…
Garden weeds include anything that grows where you don’t want it. In addition to traditional "weeds", this also includes sometimes wanted plants like grass, vines and tree seedlings.
Garden weeds can grow at any time of year and can be annual (live and die in the same year), biennial (live and die in two years) or perennial (live several years), each of which present unique challenges.
For a long list of the most common along with photos of each, see Identifying Weeds: Pictures of Weeds. The following section applies to all three types of weeds...
Unfortunately, it’s impossible for your garden to ever be completely free of weeds. Even if you’ve created ideal conditions to discourage their growth, there’s still a number of ways they can come back…
The good news is there are several ways to keep weeds at bay so that they become nothing more than a minor annoyance…
The waiting game – when your garden is cleared, tilled and ready for planting in the spring, wait a week or so for any churned-up weed seeds to sprout. As soon as they do, cut them off just below the soil’s surface with a hoe.
A diamond-head hoe makes fast work of this while disturbing the soil as little as possible (it also allows you to use the hoe while pushing instead of pulling to prevent back strain)… the less you disturb the soil, the less likely you’ll be to churn up additional dormant seeds. Repeat this process again after another week and you can be pretty sure that most dormant weed seeds close to the surface are done sprouting.
Assuming you’ve cultivated extremely healthy soil, your weed problem should be minimal in future years as long as you don’t continue to till up dormant seeds.
Apply mulch – a healthy layer of organic mulch spread around your garden plants will serve to block sunlight necessary for weed growth. Synthetic mulches such as black plastic mulch and biodegradable paper will have the same effect, as will living mulch.
Set up a drip irrigation system or, better yet, a mulch/ drip irrigation combination system – Make weed-seeds-in-waiting depend on the rain instead of your water bill! Drip irrigation delivers water directly where you want it… to your plants and away from the open spaces between them. Click here for more about the right garden watering tools.
Use barriers – Especially good for preventing grass from creeping in and for giving young plants time to get stronger, garden barriers are an effective weed-preventing addition. Commonly used barriers include:
Create weedless walkways around your garden beds. One effective method for accomplishing this is to cover your walkways with a couple layers of newspaper topped with several inches of straw. After a year or so, the weeds should be completely starved out.
Be a proactive puller – The longer you wait to pull weeds, the more likely they are to go to seed, so make weed hunting a part of your weekly routine. When making your rounds, try to remove as much of the weeds as possible, including the roots.
There are also several effective tools out there to make the job easier. If your tired of using your hands, go to your local garden store and try out a few tools.
To get rid of weeds after pulling, add them to your hot compost pile (NOT your cold compost pile unless you want them to live to fight another day).
Organic herbicides – good for spot treatment, not all effective weed sprays are made from chemicals. Organic options such as Weed-Aside Herbicidal Soap use vinegar and fatty acids to get the job done. It'll only kill what it directly touches, so it's not the end of the world if you accidentally spray a little on surrounding plant leaves when targeting garden bed weeds.
Cover crops – If all else fails and weeds continue to take over your garden bed, it’s time to shift all of your focus towards defeating them. Planting a cover crop such as buckwheat, alfalfa, clover or soybeans means that nothing but the aggressive cover crop will grow in that space for the entire year. It will overtake anything else that tries to grow there, including weeds.
When the cover crop starts to flower, till it into the soil, replant and repeat. After that year’s over, your soil will be healthier and the weeds will be gone.
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