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
Join me on a mission to change our few 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 our health too. Get to know some health benefits for common weeds and it will help you to see weeds more relaxed, even somehow enjoy them. A book suggestion: Backyard Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies.
For example, quack grass, 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. You will either have to dig or to mulch the garden heavily so the soil gets softer overtime to get rid of quack grass.
If quack grass could speak, it would tell you: “Look, your soil is so heavy, I work hard to create a network of strong roots to loosen it a bit. Please help me, so you can grow a beautiful garden.”
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 your soil
We can not stress this enough, the most important factor in how to deal with garden weeds is building good soil.
The easiest, and maybe the only good way to build good soil is to cover it with mulch. Read more in To till or not to till the garden.
Love your soil. It wants to grow for you and for all life around you. 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. Nowhere in nature, will you see healthy exposed soil, why in the garden?
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? Source: No-dig organic Home & Garden.
Compost of any kind 4-6 inches
Hay or grass 6 inches
Straw 8 inches
Wood chips, shavings, sawdust 6-8 inches
You can also use the weeds that grow freely to mulch the garden. Pull the weeds by hand 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, weeds are all already there. Just mulch with weeds.
Covering the soil
In addition to mulch, you might want to also cover the soil to get even faster results. If you cover the soil with some kind of cover, weeds will not grow as much as they do without.
As we already said the best cover is a mulch that not just covers but also builds up the soil in the process. You can also use brown cardboard or newspaper (15-25layers) to cover the soil to prevent weeds from growing. Or use it under mulch if you don’t have enough mulch to prevent weeds from growing.
You can also cover the soil with Weed Control Fabric. This is especially great for heat-loving plants in cold climate 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 mulch.
Make a weed barrier
Some weeds are more aggressive than others. If you have lots of weeds that spread by roots (like quack grass), 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 less 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 you should 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 you are actually 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. In fact, 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 deep-rooted weeds. The more you chop the roots the more plants are propagated.
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, your soil is too compacted, more mulch is needed.
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 a 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 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 round-up is needed.
For thistles, it’s best to cut them off before a good rain, or water the roots after cutting. Personally, we don’t have a thistle problem, just some small once here and there that can be pulled easily.
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 to only kill some and leave others, use one of the methods mentioned above.
You want to apply it on a nice and sunny day.
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 to fill one bucket with weeds.
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!