By Erin Marissa Russell
The struggle to keep the garden clear of weeds is a tale as old as time. What makes this task so frustrating for some gardeners is that it seems like once you’ve finally pulled up the last weed, the next generation has started to sprout. Weeding the garden is a never-ending cycle, and it can be backbreaking work.
However, the reason gardeners continue to pull up the weeds in their fields and flower beds despite these hassles is that it’s simply worthwhile. Weeds can choke out smaller, younger plants, and those they don’t choke out will be forced to vie for nutrients with the sturdier, more prolific weeds.
Some gardeners turn to chemical treatments to stave off weeds, but many of our readers have expressed hesitance to use these products, especially on plants that produce an edible harvest. There’s no reason you should have to resort to spraying your garden down with chemicals to keep it weed free, however. There are plenty of natural methods to get rid of weeds. When you use the tips we’ve outlined below, you can rest assured that you’ve kept your garden spick and span using methods that are safe for your family, your pets, and the environment.
Keep digging and tilling to a minimum.
It may come as a surprise, but digging in the soil and turning the earth over in your garden won’t help get rid of weeds. In fact, digging and tilling may result in more weeds popping up in between your plants. This happens because when you churn up the soil in your garden, the seeds of weeds that have been dormant underground can get pulled up to the surface. There, they’ll have access to the sunshine and water they need to end their dormancy and start to sprout. By all means, do your digging and tilling when it’s necessary, but go ahead and skip these activities whenever they can be avoided.
Choose your weeding time carefully.
It probably goes without saying that weeding will be a much more pleasant task when the weather outside is mild. You don’t want to be outdoors performing manual labor when the summer sun is beating down at high noon or in the middle of a thunderstorm. However, what you may not have considered is that it’s much easier to pull weeds when the ground is at least slightly damp. If you can time your weeding sessions to happen just after it rains, or at least when there’s dew on the ground, your work will be much less difficult. Instead of having to yank stubborn weeds out of dry, compact earth, you’ll be able to gently lift the invasive plants out of the softer, moist soil.
Stop the next generation of weeds before they start.
It’s perfectly understandable to fall a bit behind in your weeding on occasion—especially when the work never seems to end. That said, it’s imperative that you clear the garden of weeds before those weeds start to flower and distribute their seeds. You don’t have to manually pull each weed to stop the process of reseeding in its tracks, either. You can simply use a string trimmer or another garden tool to cut the weeds down before they have a chance to go to seed.
Play it safe and keep weeds out of the compost pile.
You’ve probably noticed that sources of information tend to contradict one another when it comes to whether or not you can include weeds in your compost. Some experts say that you should only use weeds in compost that’s a certain temperature. Others will tell you it’s okay to compost weeds as long as the plants have not gone to seed. Not all weeds reproduce using seeds; some spring to life from the roots, so simply not composting plants that have gone to seed won’t keep weeds out of the compost pile. And even when your compost is running hot, it’s impossible to get a reliable idea of just how hot the compost is, because different parts of the compost pile will have different temperature readings. Unless you want to spread a new generation of weeds along with the compost when you put it to use, we recommend leaving weeds out entirely.
Use mulch to choke out invasive plants.
Mulch has many benefits in the garden, and keeping weeds at bay is one of them. When the ground is covered with a layer of mulch, the weed seeds that land on the surface of the soil won’t be able to find purchase with their roots. The seeds that are underneath the mulch won’t be able to stretch through the mulch layer to access the sunshine they need to grow. That’s why we recommend adding mulch to your garden or wherever on your property you want to get rid of weeds.
As an added benefit, natural mulches will decompose at the end of the season, adding organic material to the soil and fortifying it so the next season’s plants will have a nutrition boost. Mulch also helps to regulate the temperature of the soil and balance out fluctuations in moisture, helping to prevent diseases such as blossom end rot of tomato and many types of fungal disease.
If you don’t like the look of mulch in the garden or would simply prefer to have as many plants as possible, you might also consider using a living ground cover to out compete weeds. Ground cover plants stay low to the ground and tend to spread outward instead of upward. With a bit of time to grow, they should spread out to cover the entire surface of the area where you planted them. Many ground covers are sturdy enough to be walked on without suffering damage.
Know how to identify weeds.
It’s true that you can keep your garden weed free without being able to identify the weeds that grow in your region just by pulling anything you didn’t plant yourself. However, being familiar with the types of weeds you’re likely to encounter has a couple of major benefits worth thinking about.
To keep certain insects at bay, it’s recommended that you weed not only your garden but the surrounding area as well. This advice is given to gardeners because certain insects can make their homes in host plants other than those in your garden, and many of those host plants are weeds. If you find yourself facing an infestation of a bug that thrives where a particular weed grows, you’ll need to be able to recognize that weed when you see it so you can remove it from your property.
It’s also a good idea to learn what you can about the invasive plants in your area so you’ll be familiar with their life cycle. Knowing how these plants behave will better equip you to protect your garden against them. For example, once you learn about how the seeds of weed plants are distributed, you may be able to stop this process before the weeds can sow their next generation in your garden. If you’d like to study up on the various types of weeds, check out Utah State University’s guidebook on Common Weeds of the Yard and Garden.
As we’ve discussed, there are lots of different small tricks you can use to simplify the business of weeding the garden. If you’re interested, check out some of the many devices or products that are out there on the market to make weeding any easier. From landscape fabric to lay on top of the soil and create a barrier against weeds to kneeling benches you can use to save your knees when you’ve got your hands in the dirt, there are lots more little things out there you can use to make weeding more and more efficient—and perhaps one day, you’ll realize that weeding has actually turned out to be fun.