What is a weed? By definition, a weed is an unwanted plant. While we might adore dandelions when the children pick them for crowns, we don’t always want them in our gardens.
The Best Way to Avoid Weeds
Weeds are telling you something. If you watch them closely, you can learn from your weeds. For example, certain weeds grow where conditions are lacking. Clover is a big hassle for many gardeners. It also has the amazing ability to move nitrogen from the air into the soil. The presence of clover in the garden can indicate that you need more nitrogen. Weeds like horsetail thrive in damp soil and may indicate the need for better drainage in the garden.
How can you avoid growing weeds and grow vegetables instead? Create the ideal conditions for those vegetables. Start with healthy soil, enriched with a good quantity of compost. This soil should have a generous population of microorganisms and invertebrates. Healthy soil feels heavy but porous. It has a lot of organic matter, but it also has spaces between the organic matter where air and water can move into the soil.
Experiment to see what plants are best suited for your garden. If you try to grow a light-loving plant in partial shade, expect to coddle this plant as it struggles to survive. Work with the garden that you have rather than the one that you would like to have. Whether the garden you have is light or shady, well-drained or poorly-drained, there are beautiful flowers and nutritious, fast-growing vegetables for every type of garden.
Healthy plants grow in a diverse environment. Trick weeds, diseases, and garden pests by growing a diversity group of plants. Grow plants at all layers of the garden. Weeds are opportunists. Where there is an open space, there is a weed. Cover the open space with a desired plant, and you have added a new dimension to your garden and reduce your weed problem.
Methods of Organic Weed Control
It’s easy to reach for the bottle when you’re confronted with weeds. Pesticides are an easy out, but they’re not the best answer for your garden. Chemical herbicides kill soil life and may also kill some of the desired plants as well as those that are undesirable. They also increase the chemical load of local wildlife, and local wildlife like birds are important predators in your garden.
Instead, choose organic weed control methods. Commercial organic herbicides use botanical products like citrus oil to kill weeds. You can also create your own homemade organic herbicides. How?
Boiling water is a high-impact way to kill off unwanted vegetation. Pour it on the plants that you want gone. This does have the potential for killing surrounding plants and soil life, since the water is so hot. The good side? Boiling water simply moves into the soil as it cools, leaving no residue.
Vinegar or soap solutions are also popular spray-on homemade herbicides. Mix 1 cup of vinegar, ¼ cup of salt, and ¼ cup of dish soap. Apply this mixture to the leaves of plants. The vinegar kills the weeds and the salt prevents them from growing again. Be aware that salt, vinegar, and soap can all damage soil life, so use this herbicide sparingly.
Weed zappers are gaining popularity amongst those who covet a technological solution to weedy problems. The zappers heat up a single weed at a time. Target the weed, push down, and zap it. While they are good for persistent weeds in a lawn or very patient gardeners, weed zappers are not as suitable for large expanses of weedy garden.
Cloth fabrics and mulches are a more universal weed-suppressing approach for the lazier and less finicky gardener. Landscaping fabric is the drawbridge of the garden. By placing landscaping fabric on the garden, you choose which plants are allowed through the fabric. This is a delight for those who do not want to pull weeds, but the challenge with landscaping fabric is that it does change your relationship with your garden soil. Soil interacts with the air and the water and the leaves and plants that fall on it. When you place fabric between the air, water, and plants and the soil, you need to step in as the gardener to replace these interactions. Mulch is a little easier, since it is permeable and air and water can move through the mulch barrier.
Of course, there is always pulling weeds, particularly with a weed-pulling device that yanks out the deeper roots. There’s nothing like a good weed-pulling exercise to increase the heart rate and reduce stress!
Weed Control Tips
The easiest and most pleasant way to control weeds is simply to remove them from the picture before they start to grow.
Mulch your garden. This might mean using a green mulch or a cover crop like winter rye or fava beans. It could mean using shredded bark around garden plants. Mulch lets water through, but it makes life difficult for the weed seeds underneath. You act as the gatekeeper for your garden, letting certain plants through and burying others.
Less Space Between Plants
Many gardens are in neat rows with large open spaces between. While this layout appeals to our sense of organization, how many rows do we see in nature? Nature is messy, and our gardens need some mess too. Have you ever noticed what happens to that nice open space in the middle of the garden? What grows between those beautifully-landscaped shrubs? Weeds happen. By growing groundcover plants like thyme or moss, small plants like hostas, and larger shrubs like rhododendrons one above the other, you create a garden that has no space for weeds to thrive.
Grow Healthy Plants
What’s the secret to a garden that is nearly free of weeds? Healthy plants are the key to a vigorous garden. By developing healthy soil, growing a diverse and densely planted garden and choosing plants that will thrive in a particular environment, you will set up your garden for success. The weed-free gardener’s secret is a simple one: create a garden where your beloved plants will thrive, and you will have fewer weeds to contend with.
Tricia Edgar loves her small garden. She is an organic gardener who is intrigued by permaculture, straw bale and cob building, and green roof design. She also runs a sustainable skills mentorship program.