5 Use weedkillers as a last resort. If you have to reach for herbicides, use them judiciously and only when other techniques alone don’t work. Read the label carefully, as the type of herbicide depends on a number of factors, including timing and the type of weed. Some gardeners prefer to use pre-emergent products, which are often applied after hand-pulling or cultivation. Post-emergent herbicides are used to combat seeds that have already sprouted, and are most effective in the seedling stage as small weeds are most susceptible to the chemicals.
4 Don’t let weeds go to seed. If you want to give weeds the heave-ho, keep a close watch and never let them flower or set seed. This won’t eliminate every single weed in your garden, because weeds have several ways of reproducing. However, preventing development of seeds can minimise spread considerably. Chop off their heads with a mower or weed trimmer if you have a large patch, but set your mower as low as possible. Otherwise, you might be controlling tall weeds while allowing lower-growing weeds to flower and spread. This technique is most effective when used with other weed-control techniques – especially hand-pulling.
3 Weed beds after a good rain. Pull weeds by hand when it’s easy. Take advantage of the weather and pull weeds when the soil is damp after a rain. Pulling up weeds is probably the most important step you can take to keep weeds under control, but don’t waste a lot of muscle power attempting to pull weeds when the soil is hard and dry. Not only is this really hard on the back, but you’ll probably snap off and leave behind pieces of roots that will generate more plants, so your hard work is accomplishing little.
2 Add mulch to gardens. Mulch is your friend. Mulch is healthy for the soil, looks pretty and keeps weeds in check by depriving them of light. A 2-3 inch layer is usually enough, especially if you’re battling slugs and snails that use deep mulch as a hiding place. Use small, organic mulch, which blocks light more effectively than big chunks. If you’re really serious, cover the ground with newspaper or landscape fabric first, especially under trees, shrubs, or other undisturbed places.
Prevent weeds from taking over in your garden with these simple steps on how to control garden weeds.
Whatever you call them and however you view them, at some point there’s bound to be a troublesome weed that’s taking over a part of your garden and needs to be controlled. Here are five tips for how to control garden weeds.
By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener, regular contributor to Gardening Know How
1 Avoid tilling your soil. Cultivate when you really need to; otherwise, leave the soil alone. It may seem that your trusty tiller is the most effective way of ridding the soil of weeds, but the opposite is true. Even a light cultivation will bring long-dormant seeds to the surface, where exposure to sunlight will sprout a healthy new crop of weeds. Disturb the soil only when you have no other choice, and try a no-dig system in your vegetable garden. And if you’re dealing with dandelions or other weeds with long taproots, don’t use a trowel. Instead, use a dandelion digger – a longer, narrow tool that looks a little like a screwdriver – and minimise disturbance.
Mulch the soil surface and weeds will find it harder to invade. Photo: Shutterstock
Make sure weeds like dandelions don’t set seed. Photo: Shutterstock
Another option is to lay a plastic or thick layer of organic mulch between the rows of vegetables. This will prevent weed seed from taking hold. Another option is a pre-emergent spray to keep weeds out of a vegetable garden, such as Trifluralin. It will not control existing weeds but can be used before planting to prevent new ones from emerging.
Controlling weeds in a vegetable garden is important to the health of your plants. Weeds are huge competitors for resources and can crown out seedlings. Their tenacious nature and ability to seed fast makes it quite a chore to stop weeds in a vegetable garden. Herbicides are an obvious solution, but you need to be careful what you use around edibles. Manual control is effective but is a labor intensive method to keep weeds out of a vegetable garden. A combination of approaches and good initial site preparation are key to vegetable weed control.
Weeds not only compete for water, nutrients, and growing space but also provide a haven and hiding place for disease and pests. Vegetable weeds controlled early in the season can help prevent these issues and slow the spread of the nuisance plants.
Controlling Weeds in a Vegetable Garden
It is also wise to check the label of an herbicide to see if it is safe to use around a particular vegetable. For instance, Trifluran cannot be used around cucumbers, garlic, lettuce, onions, squashes, or melons. Removing weeds from the vegetable garden also requires care in chemical application.
Cultural controls are safe and effective methods of weed control. These may include synthetic or organic mulches, weeding, or hoeing and cover crops. Cover crops fill in the proposed vegetable garden to prevent weeds from getting a hold and also add nutrients to the soil when they are tilled in spring.
Considerations in Weed Control
A spray of glyphosate one week before planting will also stop weeds in a vegetable garden. Most herbicides that are listed for use around edibles require one day to two weeks before it is safe to harvest. Consult the label carefully.
We are often asked, “What is the best way to weed my vegetable garden?” Depending on the size of your vegetable bed, it is often best to hoe in weeds as long as they haven’t gone to seed. Hand weed the ones that have seed heads or you will just be planting them when you hoe. Weeds are like any other vegetation and will compost into the soil, adding nutrients. Hoeing is easy on the knees and less time consuming than hand weeding an entire bed. Keep weeds out of a vegetable garden by hoeing weekly before the plants have time to get big and cause a problem.