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 really just a personal preference. There is no benefit for the garden or the plants that I know of.
You are nor a bed gardener if you have weeds, and your yeald 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 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 of 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 mulch the garden heavily so the soil gets softer over time, 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.”
Weeds point us to problems and help us to build great, nutritious soil as well as healthy bodies. See also Weeds as Indicators Of Soil Conditions, and What Weeds Tell Us.
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 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 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 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 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. 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 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 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 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 ones 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.
1 gallon (3.79 liters) of 20% industrial strength vinegar
1 tablespoon dish soap
1 tablespoon orange oil
You want to apply it on a nice 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.
If you don’t have time to weed, remove weeds that are taller than the plant within 12 inches of a 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!
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Thank you Anna! I love the tips. I do not own a garden, just my front and back yard area where I plant stuff. But I love the tips – I never knew some weed may not be weeds but could be healthy stuff for the plants. Also, I like the tip about putting water in a bucket of weeds and then watering the plants with them later!
Oh you are welcome Zan. Gardening can be so mach easier if we just go more natural.
Whenever I’m walking around my yard, I’m constantly plucking up weeds and I didn’t even know that it was better to do it by hand than with a hoe!
Have you ever eaten dandelion greens? I had someone comment on my post about doing something for the first time and she stated that she had eaten them for the first time. I never have.
I have had dandelion greens greens in a smoothy. Like with all greens in a smoothy you hardly notes the taste.
Kristen from The Road to Domestication says
I was just pulling weeds out of my tomato bed last night! My husband is much better at it than I am, though. He’ll go to take out the trash and be gone for 15 minutes. (He’s stopped to weed something.)
Your husband got it, that is the way to go. Little by little.
Amanda Smith says
Weeds are a constant battle aren’t they! Dandelions are annoying but Creeping Charlie or Myrtle and crabgrass is the worst! Especially in perennial beds.
We can be lazy, I mean busy gardeners. LOL. We save cardboard from everything and when the weeds get away from us, we lay the cardboard down the garden rows to smother out weeds.
Love the cardboard idea! Thank you!
Shirley Wood says
If Dandelions are healthy, all of the southeast should be extremely healthy right now because dandelions are worse this year than I have ever seen them!
My flower bed has been known as the Garden of Weeden as some points. I pull them up by hand but do occasionally need a small tool to get at the root. Most of the weeds go into our ‘burn pile’ .
If all of the southeast would eat all the Dandelions than you would not have so many ;). For some weeds it is important to get all the roots out.
Dandelion leaves can be quite bitter the trick is to rub them, after soaking in water with a lil vinegar added( to make any bugs you miss drop off first). They are fantastic raw in a salad with a dressing involving an active honey such as manuka ( I am from New Zealand!)
Nice to hear fro New Zealand, Jade! Thank you for sharing this information.
I’m so glad you started your list with change your attitude. Somehow we all have to get past the mindset that weeds are inherently bad.
Some weeds are bad, but a lot more aren’t bad at all. It is just the overgrowth that makes them not wanted.
Oh the joy of weeding. I have nine rows in my garden and my goal is to weed one row per day. It’s amazing how much those weeds grow back in nine days!
Wow, you are very organized, good for you! I am sure you have a beautiful garden.
Lisa Murano says
I just loved this post! I agree, weed’s aren’t always the pest they seem to be….I weed into a bucket and feed them to the chickens. They love them! Thanks for posting last week on Green Thumb Thursday. I’m featuring your post on my blog this week! Stop by and grab a featured button for your blog.
Thanks again for this great post!
That is a great tip! Chickens love weeds, make eggs and great manure out of it. One is almost thankful for weeds ;). Thank you for featuring it!
Hi Anna, great tips thank you for this post. I wonder if you have much quack grass to contend with and what you do? Its a never ending battle for me as I live out in the country in southern alberta and not much else grows. Every one pressures me to spray it but I have yet to succumb to the pressure. Just wondering if you have any good ideas.
Yes Lauren, we do have quack grass. In our May garden update I share what we did with it. We worked by hand, digging them all out. Then we installed a metal weed barrier border for the garden, about a foot deep. Now we have less of these weeds in the garden. Hope it helps you, I know how frustrating quack grass can be.
Almas Nathoo says
It nice of you to talk about weeds. Since I am been weeding my front garden so the roses plant gets more energy to burst with rose flowers. Well I do by hand so I completed the front part . Tomorrow will start at the back side which so big it will take a week I hope so. By doing weeding by hands we get fresh air all the times and sunshine to which is Vitamin “D” instead of taking pills.
Best luck to all gardeners and enjoy the moment ok. Best garden season to everybody .
I have a big thistle problem and I find them particularly hard to deal with in my raised bed vegetable garden. I planted it square foot gardening style and as such it’s very full… but not as far along as some people’s as my last frost was in June and I didn’t plant until mid June. I feel like I can’t dig them out since it would disturb my seedlings that are sprouting. I’m not sure how I should go about removing them… for now I’ve been digging down just a bit and trying to pull them but they snap off … so I’ might be doing more harm than good! :/
Love your site! It’s so nice to have info. coming from someone else living in the same area as me… (Foothills, AB)
Glenda Osnach says
I don’t remember when I found your blog/website but I refer to it often. I live just north of Wpg, MB so also in Zone 3 but without some of the trials you have (I’m thinking very low night temps in spring, etc). I stopped using RoundUp (or anything like) 20 years ago (we’ve lived here since 1992).
I’ve just mixed up & used a 500ml batch of your weedkiller to try on some remaining burdock & thistles. I know that 10% Vinegar will kill leaves. I can obtain 10% “Cleaning” vinegar readily so I’ve tried it in your recipe. It won’t be as effective as the 20%, which I haven’t tried to track down yet. The 10% with the added dish detergent & orange oil should make it work better. As long as I can keep the burdock from blooming it will be gone, the tap root goes down about 2′ on 2nd year plants but if it can’t bloom it’s done (I think you know all this!). The thistle root will travel but again if I can keep it from blooming that will go a long way to keeping it under control.
I’m not in an urban area but so many of your natural gardening tips are close to my heart!
We are empty nesters, we’ll be downsizing to a more manageable house/property close to where one of our sons has settled in BC once my husband retires from his teaching career. That was going to happen this year but with the pandemic we’ve put everything on hold for a bit.
I will also be relying on info from your site when we get out there for ideas re setting up a new garden as it will be a much smaller place with many different challenges. The soil will be very different, the invasive species are certainly different, I know this much now from visiting my son there. One of the really big challenges will be the extreme heat in the day with much lower temps at night….from 36ᵒC to 16ᵒC….for a vegie garden that’s huge!
There are some plants I would currently love to grow but I know they’re a big problem (read invasive)in the Kootenays. It will be a new challenge that’s for sure. I’m really looking forward to growing in Zone 5!
Every area and situation seems to have some advantages and also challenges. Good for you that you started early to observe and learn what that new climate is like. I’m sure you will do great, and I’m happy to hear that we are of some help to you.