Weeding your garden is one of the most unpleasant gardening tasks that you may face. Because it is unpleasant, many gardeners put it off until the weeds are out of control which will just make the job more labor intensive. Weeds are unwanted in the garden because they rob your plants of nutrients needed to grow, crowd the roots, spread disease, and often encourage pests.
Prevention is your best defense against weeds. There are steps that you can take to help eradicate weeds before they get a chance to grow. Mulch is one of the easiest ways to do this. Use any organic mulching material in a three to four inch layer around your plants. This will not allow sun to get to the weed seeds and germinate them. Mulch can be used in both the flower garden and in the vegetable garden.
You can also use landscaping fabric or weed mats to help control weeds around plants. These items work similarly to mulch. They suppress weeds as well by blocking sun to the soil around your plants. Mats smother weeds while still allowing water to penetrate. You can use black plastic sheeting, but will have to have a drip irrigation system underneath the plastic so that plants receive enough water.
One last way to help prevent weed growth is to space plants closer together. As the plants grow, they will create a canopy that will prevent sun from getting through to the soil so that weed seeds can germinate. Placing closer in the garden will not do any damage if you are starting with quality soil. There should be plenty of nutrients for all of your plants. If you are concerned, be sure to fertilize periodically.
Organic Approaches to Weeding
Hand weeding is a common way to get the job done. It is a most effective technique when weeds are small, and have not had a chance to root too deeply. When hand weeding, do so when the soil is slightly moist so that roots can be loosened easily. You do not want to weed when soil and plants are wet, as this is a way to spread soil borne disease.
Use weeding tools to get the job done. Small handheld tools like trowels, forked weeders, and three pronged rakes are very effective in taking care of smaller weeds and those that are growing very close to your plants. Another effective tool is a hoe. It can be used to cultivate the soil before weeds show themselves, or can be used to chop and pull up weeds that have germinated. The most drastic and perhaps fun tool that you can buy is a flame weeder. It is a long handled tool attached to a propane tank. You localize the flame to only the weed and burn it which causes it to die. This is a good tool if you have a large garden or lawn.
- Weed at the end of the season. This prevents weeds from going to seed, and leaving seed in the garden for the next planting season.
- Plant cover crops. Cover crops will crowd out weeds, and keep them from growing throughout the winter.
- Use drip irrigation. This method of watering prevents water from getting to all of the soil where weed seeds may be.
- Start with transplants. This will give your vegetables a head start, and enable them to persevere against weeds that may sprout around them.
Want to learn more about how to weed your garden?
Check out these helpful resources:
Managing Weeds from Oregon State University Extension Service
Flame Weeding for Vegetable Crops from National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
Weed Control in Home Gardens from University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service