Don't Let Weeds Get the Upper Hand
Everyone has different standards of neatness. That’s true in the garden as well as in the house. Gardens that look weedy to one person, may look pretty tidy to another. But personal standards aside, there are actually some good reasons to keep weeds under control. Weeds complete for valuable moisture and nutrients, can shade or crowd the plants you’re actually cultivating, and if they’re allowed to go to seed, they be a bigger problem in the future.
Weeding is a chore you can't avoid. But you can dramatically decrease the amount of time you spend doing it and that’s a benefit everyone can appreciate!
Weed Early and Often
The time to start managing weeds is very early spring. Difficult perennial weeds like dandelions are able to grow in surprisingly cold soil. If you get them out while the soil is still moist and before they are in active growth mode, it's easier to remove them, roots and all.
As the soil warm up, annual weed seeds start to germinate. In most areas of the country, weed pressure is greatest in the spring and this is a critical time to assert your dominance. Weed weekly to remove these plants while they are still small. You’ll be surprised how quickly this can be done when the plants are young and tender.
Starting a new garden area? Don’t despair! Controlling weeds can be very difficult for the first couple years. As you turn the soil and shape new garden beds, you are bringing weed seeds up to the surface where there’s enough light for them to germinate. Plus, all that freshly exposed soil is like a red carpet for airborne weed seeds (dandelions!) as well as invasive creepers (creeping Charlie!).
The photo at left was taken in a public garden in England. Weeds sometimes overpower even the best of us!
Banish Seed Heads
The key to long term weed control is vigilance. Make it your goal to let no weed go to seed. A single plant can produce hundreds or even thousands of seeds that will be around to plague you in the months and years to come.
Some weeds inevitably go unnoticed until they start flowering. Whenever and wherever you find these rascals, be swift about removing them – especially the flower heads. Weeds have an uncanny ability to go from flower to seed in a blink of the eye.
Minimize Soil Disturbance
Dig only when you need to dig. Most soils are filled with weed seeds that can remain dormant for decades. Digging brings these seeds to the surface where there is enough light for them to germinate. When you’re weeding, it’s important to remove the roots, but when you do, try to disturb the soil as little as possible.
Mulch the Soil
Mulch has many benefits, and one of the big ones is weed suppression. Covering the soil with a 2” layer of fine-textured mulch (shredded leaves, compost or ground bark mulch) deprives weed seeds of light and will drastically reduce the number of them that can germinate.
Organic mulches improve the soil as they break down and also help to conserve soil moisture. You and your plants will receive many benefits from this one activity.
Weeds love overhead sprinklers because they don't discriminate. Weeds get just as much water as flowers. To keep weeds in check, focus water on desirable plants and avoid wetting nearby surfaces where weed seeds lie in wait.
Though it’s enjoyable to water with the “sprayer” setting on your hose nozzle, consider turning the dial to jet or soaker instead. Adding a wand will let you direct water to specific plants without bending over.
Give weeds an inch and they'll take a foot. To prevent them from getting started, keep your flower beds nice and full -- just short of crowded. The fuller they are, the more completely the foliage will shade the soil surface. And without light, most weed seeds won't germinate. Aim to have the foliage of one plant just touching the foliage of its neighbor.