Ask any gardener what their least favorite part of gardening is, and most likely weeding will be near the top of the list. Not only can weeding be a back-breaking and monotonous chore, but it’s also a task that is never really complete.
You can dedicate hours and days to weeding the garden, but if you let a few weeks or a month pass, chances are you’ll have a whole new flush of weeds to deal with. It can be tempting to throw in the towel and let the weeds do their thing. If you do that, chances are you’ll still see a few of the flowers you planted, and be able to harvest a handful or two of cherry tomatoes despite the weeds. However, weeding the garden on a regular basis will improve your plants’ health and productivity, in addition to making the garden a more pleasant place to enjoy and spend time.
Weeds, we should note, are simply misplaced plants. Say, for instance, you really like dandelion greens. You decide to grow only dandelions in your garden this year and will spend the season weeding out everything other than the dandelions. Your neighbor, on the other hand, will most likely spend his season weeding the dandelions out of his garden to make room for the tomatoes and peppers he loves to grow. While productive gardens can support a bit of weed pressure and still produce beautiful plants, the general rule is that your garden will be more productive and experience less disease and pest pressure if you keep the weeds in check.
A single weed can produce as many as 250,000 seeds. For this reason, it is important to stay on top of weeding. If you ignore the weeds and allow them to go to seed, you are essentially creating more work for yourself in the upcoming years. Once those seeds fall to the soil, they can remain dormant for years, waiting for a chance to sprout as another weed for you to deal with in the future. Therefore, in addition to staying on top of the current weeds in the garden, it can be beneficial to prevent weeds from sprouting in the first place.
The following is a short list of preventative measures you can take to keep weeds out of your garden:
- Don’t let weeds go to seed. As mentioned above, allowing your weeds to go to seed is creating more work in the future. Additionally, young weeds are much easier to deal with than those that have reached maturity.
- Use natural or synthetic mulch to decrease weed pressure. Natural mulch options include weed-free straw (some straw itself can contain lots of weed seed), grass clippings, finely chipped wood, and partially decomposed leaves. Synthetic mulch options include landscape fabric (best for ornamental and perennial gardens) and biodegradable black plastic mulch, which will decompose over the course of the growing season.
- Solarize the soil. Cover your prepared garden bed with clear or black plastic for about a month to kill weed seeds in the top few inches of soil. You can remove the plastic when you are ready to plant and reuse it in a different area of the garden.
Having the right tools is another necessity in the battle against weeds.
A few key cultivating tools in the garden shed can do wonders in dealing with weeds. If you are able to find the right tool for the job, and maintain it and keep it sharp, weeding can even become fun and relaxing! There are a number of tools available to gardeners for weeding purposes, and I recommend trying or borrowing a few different varieties before investing in your own.
You want to find something that you are comfortable using; otherwise, weeding will continue to be a chore and more likely to be put off too long. I personally recommend using a hand cultivator when you are weeding close to plants (for more control and precision) and a hula or stirrup hoe in larger areas or pathways.
With the right mindset, effective preventative measures, and a few high quality and well-maintained garden tools, you will be well on your way to a healthy, productive and weed-free garden.
What advice would you add on keeping weeds out of the garden? Share your thoughts in the section below: