Dealing with weeds in the garden? Their often persistent nature can make for a truly frustrating experience. In this article (with video demo), we share our top tactics for keeping weeds under control in your vegetable garden—without resorting to chemical killers.
From puny annual weeds that can be dispatched with a hoe to more troublesome perennials that need a more considered strategy, there are ways to win the war on weeds.
Annual Versus Perennial Weeds
Annual weeds germinate, flower and set seed in one season, while perennial weeds continue growing for many years. Both kinds present their own challenges, but they can be kept under control—without resorting to using herbicides.
Regain control of a garden that has become weedy by cutting or mowing weeds to the ground. Cover them with a light-excluding fabric, thick black plastic, or organic mulch such as compost or leaf mold to starve the weeds of sunlight. You could also use cardboard; remove any tape or staples, and lay the sheets of cardboard with generous overlaps to make it difficult for weeds to push up. Weigh the cardboard down to keep it in place, and replace it when it rots down.
Perennial weeds with deep or spreading roots such as bindweed, ground elder and nettles may take a year or more to die off completely, but once they do they will help improve the soil and feed the plants that follow.
Act fast to remove any weeds that make it to the surface. Dig them out with a trowel or fork. Fragments of perennial weed roots can easily regrow, so try to get all of the roots. Only add perennial weeds to your compost pile if you have drowned them in a bucket of water for at least a month first. They should have turned into sloppy goo which can then be poured over your compost.
Hoe weekly with a sharp hoe to keep emerging annual weeds under control. Aim to hoe on a windy or sunny day, in the morning if possible, so that the weed seedlings quickly shrivel up and die. Weeds will quickly spread if they get the opportunity to produce seeds, so always aim to remove weeds before they flower
Organic mulches like compost and leaf mold not only feed the soil, they can also help to suppress weeds.
If you won’t be growing vegetables in an area of ground for a while, sow a cover crop to crowd out weeds and add valuable organic material. Fast-growers like mustards may be sown as late as fall to produce lush foliage in a matter of weeks. They can be dug up or dug in before planting the next crop.
Intensive planting with vegetables such as potatoes that produce lots of foliage will prevent light from reaching the ground and help keep weeds in check.
Check new plants for weeds, and make sure that any bought-in manure or compost is well-rotted and free of weed seeds too. Cover compost heaps and potting mixes to prevent wind-blown seeds from taking root. And keep tools and boots clean to minimize the spread of weeds.
See more about identifying your common weeds in the garden and lawn.
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