Weeds are plants that grow where we do not want them to grow. Any plant can be a weed, in fact in our garden we have chive weeds, delphinium weeds as well as dandelion weeds. “It grows like a weed” is a saying to describe what is thriving. Weeds always seem to be there. How to deal with garden weeds in order not to lose the joy of gardening?
Change your attitude
Having a weed-free home garden is just a personal preference. There is no benefit for the garden or the plants that I know of.
You are not a bad gardener if you have weeds, and your harvest will most likely not be affected. As in most cases, the middle way is the best way to go. Don’t let the weeds take over the garden, but also do not stress if there are some weeds.
Join me on a mission to change our perspective on weeds and weeding. Most plants that we see as weeds are not weeds at all. Many of them are medicinal plants, beneficial for the garden and the gardener.
What makes beneficial weeds so nasty is their ability to thrive and reproduce. In itself, though a lot of them are great for the soil, bees, and ourselves, too.
Get to know some health benefits of common weeds and it will help you to see weeds more relaxed, and even somehow enjoy them. A book suggestion: Backyard Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Herbal Remedies.
But Anna, you might say, there are nasty weeds, too. Those that take over the garden and even suppress other plants from growing. Quackgrass is a great example.
Quackgrass is also known as couch grass, twitch grass, and devil’s grass. In herbal medicine, it is most commonly used for respiratory and urinary disorders, and as a spring tonic. The roots can be ground to make flour for food.
In the garden, quack grass grows best in hard and heavy soil. It can only be removed by getting out all the roots. There is also no other way than to loosen the soil.
If quackgrass could communicate, it would tell you: “Look, your soil is so heavy, I create a network of strong roots to loosen it a bit. Please help me, so you can grow a beautiful garden.”
You will have to dig out the roots regularly and mulch the garden heavily so that the soil gets softer over time. In soft soil, quackgrass can be pulled by hand. It seems like it wants to get out of it.
As with medicine, it is only needed if there is a problem. It is no different with weeds. Here we will cover some important steps to discourage weeds from growing in the garden so you don’t need them so to speak.
Build good soil
We cannot stress this enough, the most important factor in how to deal with garden weeds is building good soil.
There is a whole list on the blog of methods to build good soil, just click on one that might interest you and keep reading:
Mulch the garden
Nowhere in nature will you see healthy exposed soil, why in the garden? Keeping it exposed, the way most gardens are is destructive for the soil. It’s like having an open wound that is not allowed to heal.
Natural mulch like compost, wood chips, grass clippings, straw, or hay is all great for the garden. The mulch will prevent weeds from growing and keep the soil moist. A great video to watch is The Back to Eden film.
How much will you need to prevent weeds from growing?
Compost of any kind 4-6 inches
Hay or grass 6 inches
Straw 8 inches
Wood chips, shavings, and sawdust 6-8 inches
Source: No-dig Organic Home & Garden.
You can also use the weeds themself that grow freely to mulch the garden. Cut or pull the weeds and lay them down between the plants, when new weeds grow, do the same. This is also called Chop-N-Drop – Mulching Permaculture Style.
Permaculturists like to grow specific plants like comfrey to mulch with, but eh, any weeds that are already there can be used as long as they do not have gone to seed. Just mulch with weeds.
Cover the soil
As we already said the best cover is a mulch that not just covers but also builds up the soil in the process. In addition to mulch, in some cases, it is beneficial to cover the soil to get even faster results. If you cover the ground with some kind of cover, weeds will not grow.
Brown cardboard or newspaper (15-25 layers) can be used to cover the soil to prevent weeds from growing. It is most often used under the mulch. But can also be used on top if you don’t have enough mulch to prevent weeds from growing.
Weed Control Fabric can also be used. It is especially great for heat-loving plants in cold climates since the black cover will warm up the soil. You do not want to use weed control fabric permanently under some mulch, just on top of the soil as a cover.
Make a weed barrier
Some weeds are more aggressive than others. If you have lots of weeds that spread by roots (like quackgrass), it is helpful to separate the garden area from the rest of the yard by installing a weed barrier border, about a foot deep. This will help to have fewer of these weeds coming into the garden.
We used recycled sheet metal. In some of our garden beds, we used recycled garage door panels ripped in half. Whatever is non-toxic and will not rot right away can be used.
Never let weeds go to seeds
It’s OK to have some weeds, in fact as we have seen they might help us to build up good soil, but we want to make sure that they do not go to seeds. One weed plant produces hundreds of seeds.
Especially at the end of the season, one is tempted just to let it go. What we are doing is seeding a garden of weeds! But if you give the weeds no chance to go to seeds you will see how much fewer weeds there will be next year.
Leaving no space for the weeds
The more space you leave between the plants the more the weeds can thrive. Weeds are always eager to cover the soil. In nature, nothing is uncovered.
The Square Foot Garden planting system is helpful to space plants so that there is no room left for weeds to grow.
Weed by hand
A fresh hoed garden looks very nice. However, hoeing breaks up the soil and more and more seeds come to the surface and germinate. Even worse is hoeing for root-propagated weeds. The more you chop the roots the more plants are multiplied.
Weeding by hand also allowed you to feel the quality of your soil. Weeds should be easy to pull. If that’s not the case, the soil is too compacted, more mulch is needed. In some cases, if the compacted soil persists, consider double-digging next spring.
The weeds that you pull by hand and use as mulch or collect in the bucket are gone!
You can fill that weed bucket with water and make some nutritious tea for the plants. Next time you go into the garden drain out the weeds and water the plants with it, then fill the bucket again, repeating the process. The garden will thrive like never before.
The weeds can also be composted. Just be aware that your compost is hot enough to kill strong roots, and/or seeds. Otherwise, discard those things into the garbage can or burn them. Weed tops can always be composted.
Kill some weeds
I do not suggest killing all the weeds. As we have seen many weeds are beneficial and are great companion plants. But sometimes you just have to kill some weeds.
If you pull a weed with all the roots the weed of course is gone. Weeds that have a massive root system might need to be dug out. We find the fork to be the best tool for it. We do not want to turn the soil, just loosen it to get the weeds out.
If your soil is mulched and healthy, getting all those roots out is not difficult. Make sure to get them all at planting time, there will not be much to worry about during the growing season. If you never had a mulched garden, it will be hard for you to believe the difference it makes.
An easy way to kill weeds or almost any plant for this matter is by cutting off the top. A plant that has no leaves above the ground will die. It simply starves the roots to death because no photosynthesis is taking place. No RoundUp is needed.
For thistles, it’s best to cut them off before a good rain or water the roots after cutting.
Natural weed killer
Sometimes you want to kill everything in an area like pathways, there is a natural weed killer that works. It does kill all plants, so if you want only to kill some and leave others, use one of the methods mentioned above.
You want to apply it on a sunny day.
Be aware though that even natural weed killers are not beneficial for the soil. So it is the last remedy to use.
On a beautiful summer morning, it is a real joy to go into the garden to see the plants and to remove some weeds. No, not weed the whole garden. Just set yourself small goals, such as one bed, one row, or filling one bucket with weeds.
If you don’t have time to weed, remove weeds that are taller than the plant within 12 inches of the plant you planted will do.
It helps not to see the weeds as an overwhelming evil, but to celebrate small successes true to the progress principle. Then you will enjoy doing it again. If you weed regularly a little, you will never have to weed the whole garden at once.
Just because Aunt XYZ has no weeds (at least not visible), it does not mean that you and I shouldn’t have any. It is only important that you master the weeds and not the other way around.
With these important tips on how to deal with garden weeds, you will build good soil and have fewer weeds to deal with without feeling overwhelmed.
Enjoy your garden!