While it’s tempting to call any unwanted plant a “weed,” there are really only a select few weeds that become invasive and problematic. And while some folks turn to dangerous chemicals, many weeds are actually resistant to herbicides and respond better to different methods of control. With these weed control techniques in your gardening arsenal, weeds won’t stand a chance!
1. Mulch Over Them
Mulch is a covering that blocks weed seeds from sunlight so they don’t germinate, inhibits growth underneath itself, and retains moisture. Mulch also provides needed nutrients as it decomposes over time, and moderates soil temperatures.
- Cover the soil between your plants and along rows with mulch to prevent weeds from growing.
- Keep the mulch a few inches from the base of your plants to discourage insect invasions and prevent rot, too.
- Common organic mulches include wheat straw, shredded leaves, and wood chips; inorganic mulches include black plastic and landscaping fabric. Put down a layer of organic mulches that is about 1 inch thick.
If you use leaf blowers, many come with shredders that can turn yard debris into garden mulch fast, which saves you the costs of making or buying your own mulch.
For persistent or numerous weeds, try covering the area with dampened newspaper (black ink only) and then cover with 2 inches of mulch. Around the bases of trees and shrubs, consider covering the ground with landscape fabric and then an organic mulch. See our mulching guide.
2. Plant Cover Crops
Cover crops, like wheat, clover, and barley, are generally beneficial plants and are capable of spreading rather easily. In some situations, you can use a cover crop in the shoulder seasons to block out weeds. See our list of cover crops.
3. Pull Them Out
For better or worse, you’ll need to manually pull out most weeds. Wear waterproof gloves and consider a comfortable kneeling pad or camp stool for extended weeding sessions.
- Weeds will slide out of the soil easier when the soil is wet and the weeds are young.
- The trick to pulling weeds is to get the root out as well, since many common weeds—like dandelions—will regrow from any roots left in the ground. Pull the weed from its base (close to the soil line) and twist gently to dislodge the roots. If you accidentally snap the roots off, try using a fork to gently pry the rest of the plant out of the ground, roots and all.
4. Dig Them Up
If your weeds regrow, then you have a persistent root that you need to dig out. Use a spade or digging fork to dig up persistent weeds by the roots. Remove as many root pieces as you can.
While weeding, try to hold the trowel vertically (like a child holding a crayon) to eliminate strain on your wrist.
5. Hoe Them Down
When weeds have really sprung into action, nothing beats a good old-fashioned garden hoe. Hoeing is best done in the morning when the soil is dry. The weeds will cut cleanly from the soil and this creates a “dust mulch,” which inhibits the germination of new weeds. You can let the weeds simply dry in the sun during the day and then take to the compost heap.
If dealing with weeds is too much of a hassle, at least resolve to keep them from setting seed. Chop off their heads once a week!
6. Minimize Soil Disruption
Unless you are able to fully remove the roots from the soil, reconsider weeding with a hoe. Gardeners used to advocate cultivation—stirring the top one or two inches of soil to damage weeds’ roots and tops, causing them to die. However, cultivation seems to simply expose dormant weed seeds to light and air, awakening them. Instead, it may be best to preserve the natural soil layers.
Some folks say it helps to turn your soil at night to control weeds. Research indicates that weeds may be stimulated to grow by a sudden flash of light, which is what you give them when you turn the soil over during the day. A German study concluded that by turning the soil at night, weed germination could be reduced by as much as 78 percent! You can try this method by working under a full Moon, or at dawn or dusk.
7. Keep Your Garden Edges Trimmed
Ever noticed many weeds collect at the edges of your yard or garden? Keep the edges trimmed; this will help prevent a weed invasion. The places to watch are the edges of your lawn, around posts and fence lines, and close to planting beds.
8. Aerate Your Soil
Some types of weeds, especially those with deep roots, grow well because the soil is compacted. The plants roots aren’t getting the air, water, and nutrients they need so the weeds start to take over. If you rent an aerator from your local home improvement store, you’ll be amazed at how providing annual aeration will reduce the amount of deep-rooted weeds.
9. Reduce Open Garden Space
If your soil is rich and drains well, plant your plants closer together. This will cut down weed growth.
Start your warm weather plants as soon as you can to keep the soil from being bare for too long. At the end of the season, plant cover crops such as rye grass, winter wheat, or oats to prevent weeds from finding a home in your garden.
10. Let Them Grow…Temporarily
Encourage weeds to grow before you plant your garden. Lay sheets of clear plastic over your garden in early spring to warm up the soil and encourage weeds to germinate. Once the weeds are several inches above the soil, pull or hoe them out. Then plant your own crops.
11. Use Drip Irrigation
If you can water only the plants that need it, you may avoid the cultivation of weeds in unplanted areas, paths, and areas where they are not welcome—and where they would dry up if not watered!
12. Eat Them
Yes, some weeds—lamb’s quarters, amaranth, purslane, and others—are edible when young and tender! Instead of destroying them, consider cultivation! Learn more about eating your weeds.
Know Your Enemy
Above all, knowing how to identify the most invasive and destructive weeds is key to keeping your garden defended from weeds. Check out our list of common weeds to help identify what’s growing in your garden and learn how best to get rid of it.