Stopping weeds from emerging in the garden is the never-ending battle homeowners and gardeners face. While there is no such a thing as a weed-free garden, there are ways to have a reasonably tamed one. For the last four years, I learned how to keep my garden beds clear of weeds without breaking my back. Read along to learn how to do so in your garden as well.
#1 Identify the weed
It is important to identify the weeds. There are different classifications for weeds depending on different criteria. If we consider growth and leaf type, we have broadleaf, grasses, and sedges. Looking into their growing cycle, we have annuals and perennials. Each type of weed has its own way of treatment. For example, a broadleaf herbicide won’t work on the sedges nor grasses.
How about edible weeds?
Most of the time, what we consider a weed is a forgotten edible wild plant. Take the example of Dandelion, which is the most common weed. It is very much an edible and medicinal herb. The yellow flower is harvested and dried for teas. The young greens make a nice addition to salads with a slightly bitter taste. Most likely, your parents or grandparents used to forage, which is picking wild plants for consumption.
I understand this is not what you were expecting, but trust me if you do it the right way you won’t regret it.
When to pick weeds?
The best time to pick weeds is after the rain. Working the soil after rain compacts it and turns it into a block after it dries out. Instead, spend the time pulling weeds. When soil is wet, it is much easier to uproot plants. You may use a simple tool such as a weeder or a garden knife, which helps reach deep down into the soil and grab most of the root system.
How to pick weeds?
First, when pulling the plant, try to grab it from the base, shimming ever so slightly to loosen up the roots. If you pull with an abrupt force, you will break the stem leaving the roots in, which will only cause more weeds to form. It is like you pruned it to give it more energy.
Second, use a handheld weeder or a garden knife. Slice into the ground near the plant and lift it from the root. These tools do make the job easier and help get as much of the root system as possible.
#3 Do not let it go to seed
Always pick the weeds as soon as you notice them. Do not allow them to flower and go the seed. That will only make the situation worse in the coming season. Also, pick grass runners as soon as they get into your flower beds before they take over.
#4 Avoid tilling
Tilling the soil is the practice of turning the soil inside out to loosen it up and get it ready for planting. This practice is not practical nor beneficial. Tilling may cause new weeds to emerge and spread. The dormant seeds that have been buried will get exposed to sunlight and break their dormancy.
#5 Plant closely
Planting closely is efficient for the home gardeners in so many ways, but how does it prevent weeds?
When the plants are close to each other, they shade the ground surrounding them. Blocking sunlight from reaching the dormant seeds will prevent them from germinating and will stunt the ones that have already come up.
#6 Use mulch
Following the same concept of blocking sunlight, mulch is another great way to block weeds from growing. The layer of mulch should be three to five inches thick to be effective.
#7 Use finished compost
When adding fresh compost to your garden, make sure it is finished. A well-cooked compost should reach a high temperature ranging from 135-160 F, which would kill any remaining seeds.
Watering properly is another way to minimize weeds. Using drip systems or spot watering are effective ways to get water only to the desired plants.
#9 Apply organic germination inhibitors
Stopping weeds from invading your garden starts by stopping the seeds from germinating. Other than blocking the sun and depriving them of water, there are some organic applications to inhibit germination. Broadcasting cornmeal is the forgotten method of stopping weeds from sprouting. Apply it in the fall before during the dormant season, but beware as it will also stop wildflowers from germinating.
#10 Grow a healthy turf
Treat your lawn like you would your hair, without the shampoo part. Good lawn care creates a healthy turf that will choke any intruders. Cut the grass to the proper height according to the season, and make sure the equipment is clean. Check with the extension office for your area for the right time to fertilize. Try to stick to organic products as they feed the soil as well as the turf.
#11 Start foraging
There is a chance that what you are considering to be weeds are just forgotten edible herbs. You might ask your parents or grandparents about foraging days when they used to go to the fields to collect wild plants. Take the example of dandelion, the most common weed found around the world. All parts of the plant, flowers, leaves, and roots are used in traditional medicine. It is believed to have many healing properties. There are many other “weeds” that are beneficial to us, so we might need to switch our mindset from destruction to exploration.