By Melanie Mathieson
The Gardening Guru
Many people do not like to garden because of the work involved keeping the weeds at bay.
Ask any gardener what the most negative aspect of gardening is and they almost always reply, “Weeds.”
It’s true that weeds and unwanted plants are present in almost every garden, but there are some ways to control weeds without them getting out of hand and taking over the garden.
With some patience, diligence, and early-attack methods, you’ll soon be keeping weeds at bay and enjoying the later part of the season a little more “weed-free.”
I’ve listed some tips for easier and effective organic weed control (most of these tips are for the vegetable garden, but some of them can be adapted to the flowerbed, as well).
Remember, your best tools against weeds are early attack and diligence.
1. Till or work your soil no more than 24 hours before planting time. By doing so, you will have planted your seeds or plants before weed seeds take hold.
Many weed seeds lay just under the surface of the soil and tilling exposes them to the sun, at which time they sprout and grow.
2. “Weed and thin” with a garden rake when your vegetable plants are one-quarter to one-half inch high (around 10 days). By stirring the soil in the bed early, you disrupt the growth of the weeds around your desired plants.
Do this every week or so while the crops or plants are growing.
Make sure you do this in areas that weren’t planted, as well. But don’t do this around peas, beans, or onion sets, though.
3. Keep stirring the soil around your plants all season long, penetrating the first half-inch of soil each time. This will uproot any small weeds that have started to sprout and kill them.
Do it on a regular schedule whether you see weeds spouting or not.
After all, it is much easier to go over your soil lightly with a rake or hoe once a week than it is to weed mature weeds on your hands and knees for hours.
4. Pull grass and dandelions as soon as they emerge, making sure you pull as much of the root as you can. Crab/quack grass, for instance, has buds on their roots that allows a new shoot of grass to grow where it was broken off.
Pulling out as much of the root as possible reduces the chance of re-sprouting and weakens the food reserve of the root system. With persistence, you will weaken the quack grass.
Dandelions will re-grow from their original root in the same way, so you must remove the deep root. A good form of control is to never let dandelions go to seed in your garden or lawn.
5. The best time to pull mature weeds from the ground is after a rain when the soil is still slightly damp.
When pulling weeds by hand, grasp the weed at the soil level and pull (you may have to loosen around the roots a bit with a hand trowel first). Using this method ensures you get as much of the plant and root system as possible.
Also remember that it is much easier to pull weeds when they are young and have a shallow root system, as opposed to when they are more mature and have a very deep and established one.
6. In your vegetable garden, plant crops like beans and peas very densely. This chokes out the weeds underneath and then makes a great place for planting crops like carrots, lettuce, and onions that are less resistant to weeds next season.
Plant other crops like beets, green onions, and carrots as densely as possible, and thin as you use them to help keep weeds from invading.
You can plant annuals very close together in the flowerbed and achieve the same thing.
7. Avoid using horse, cow, or sheep manures unless you are sure they are completely rotted. Adding these when not fully composted to your garden is like sprinkling a can of wildflower seed over your garden.
Manure that is packaged in bags that indicates it has been heat treated or irradiated is a better choice.
8. Never put weeds that have seeds present on the plant in your composter. You cannot guarantee that the composting process will kill these seeds and when you spread your compost next year, these seeds will germinate.
Because of the ability of quack grass to re-sprout from its roots, I never put it in the composter, either. I wouldn’t want a composter full of sprouting quack grass.
9. Mulch is a gardener’s best friend. Apply it thickly and it will choke out all weeds.
Just remember to never use mulches like hay or straw that are loaded with weed seeds, but use other products instead like grass clippings, pine needles, or tree bark that have little to no weed seed in them.
10. Always edge your flowerbeds with a sharp spade and till back the edge of your garden to prevent the grass at the edges from invading your garden.
If you do not want to do this on an annual basis, install a good edging product that keeps the grass from invading.
11. Never let weeds go to seed in or near your garden. Keep the rest of the yard as free from possible weeds, as well.
Many weed seeds are dispersed by the wind and the average weed species each produces hundreds of seeds in each plant.
Every time you let a plant like this go to seed in your garden, it is adding hundreds more seeds to the soil. Isn’t it much easier to get rid of one plant than 100?
Again, it is very important to clean out the garden and remove weeds at the end of the season when they are producing their most seeds.
Throw all plants—good or bad—that have gone to seed at the end of the season in the garbage, not the composter.
12. Plant a forage crop in trouble spots, over the entire garden, or where you have harvested crops.
A forage crop of annual rye grass or buckwheat can do wonders for your garden.