Now that we’ve finally had some real rain this winter, things are growing again. But what’s growing best in your yard and garden at the moment may be weeds – huge bumper crops of them. So we thought it might be time to look for advice on the best way to get rid of weeds now, and keep them to a minimum in the future.
First, what, exactly, are weeds…and how do you distinguish them from other plants? In general, there is no biological classification for “weeds.” Instead, they are merely plants growing of their own accord, where they are not wanted, amid other cultivated plants. (So, quite often, in addition to wholly undesirable plants, “weeds” can also include wanted or beneficial plants…which are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, yes, this would probably include the lovely asparagus patch I proudly planted in my grandmother’s flower garden when I was three. But I will forever love her for leaving it there to flourish, for many years afterward.)
That said, here are some great tips for weeding your garden.
- “Let sleeping weeds lie.” Only weed seeds in the top layer of soil get enough light to germinate…so don’t disturb the rest of the soil any more than you need to.
- “Mulch, mulch, mulch.” Covering soil with layers of mulch discourages the germination of weed seeds.
- “Weed when the weeding’s good.” Fresh weed seedlings in wet soil are much easier to pull completely than established plants in dry ground.
- “Heat is the key to composting weeds.” If you throw weeds into your compost pile, it’s a good idea to heat the compost, to kill the weed seeds, before spreading it on your garden. (See the link to the full article, above, for tips on how to cook your compost.)
- “Lop off their heads.” If you can’t pull weeds out by their roots, “deadheading” helps to keep plants from re-germinating.
- “Mind the gaps between plants.” If you plant your wanted plants close enough together that they shade the area between each plant, fewer weeds will grow between them.
- “Water the plants you want, not the weeds you’ve got.” Place drip or soaker hoses so they’ll water your cultivated plants, but leave in-between areas as dry as possible, to discourage unwanted plant growth there.
We found some other good tips at http://empressofdirt.net/weeding-tips-gardeners/, which in addition to endorsing several of the above suggestions, notes that the best weed removal method differs depending on the spreading mechanism of each plant (seeds, runners or rhizomes)…and that different kinds of tools are best for removing different kinds of weeds. We also especially like their final “Bonus Tip”: “If all else fails, rent a goat.” And, yes, they provide a helpful link to do just that.
One other method used by many gardeners to kill weeds, and to keep them from reappearing, is the installation of weed cloth or other manufactured barrier materials. While smothering is definitely a very good way to get rid of weeds (see the general mulching tip, above…or, a bit more aggressive, cardboard sheet-mulching techniques that are both cheap and easy), there is some debate about whether petroleum-based weed fabrics and plastic barrier materials are the best solution. According to “Six Reasons Why Landscape Fabric is a Bad Idea,” these kinds of barriers (which, unlike cardboard, do not decompose into the soil over time):
- Tend to compact the soil underneath, which also inhibits wanted plant growth and makes future weeding and planting more difficult.
- Make weeding more difficult by obstructing access to the weeds that do germinate under the fabric.
- Put petroleum-based and chemically treated materials in contact with plants, which may be of concern to organic gardeners and/or in areas where you’re growing edible plants.
- Are more expensive than plant-based mulch or cardboard.
- Make future planting and/or reconfiguration of your garden much more difficult.
- Make it more difficult for the wanted plants in the area to re-seed themselves.
Finally, while many people find weeding tedious and soul-sucking (in the same league with other never-ending chores like dishes and laundry), others really enjoy the relaxing and sensory-stimulating nature of the work. You might even find yourself lulled into a lovely Zen-like state (or other forms of satisfaction) while taking time out of your busy day to do it. And there’s also the immediate gratification from the major improvement in your garden’s appearance, at no cost to you.
So, with these tips in mind – and noting that after yesterday’s rain, our soil is nice and wet and fat with weeds – this would probably be a great day to go out and spend some time weeding your garden.