By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener, summitspringsgardenwriting.com
Like pests in the garden, weeds are often just as inevitable regardless of how hard you try to avoid them otherwise. That being said, there are some things you can do to help minimize their presence, or in the very least, make controlling them a little easier. Here are our top 6 tips for weed control in gardens.
1. Pull them up. Pulling weeds by hand is completely organic and doesn’t cost a penny. The key is to pull the entire plant and root, because any root pieces left behind can grow a new plant. This can be difficult when weeds have long taproots, but watering the area the day before makes weeds easier to remove. Grab the base of the weed and pull it up slowly and straight.
2. Get yourself a weeding tool. Speaking of taproots, if you have a lot of thistle, dandelions or other weeds with long taproots, invest in a hand weeder. Also known as a fishtail weeder or a dandelion digger, this handy, inexpensive tool is long and curved, which provides leverage; and the end is forked, so you can get at the roots more effectively. Loosen the root with the tool, and then pull the weed from the ground.
3. Cut weeds before they seed. If you have too many to pull, the best way to get rid of weeds is to cut them – preferably before they bloom and go to seed. (Keep in mind that some types of weeds are highly prolific and one plant is capable of generating many thousands of seeds.) You can cut the weeds with a mower or use a string trimmer or an old pair of scissors. Either way, cut as close to the ground as possible. If the weeds haven’t yet flowered, you can add them to the compost pile. If they’re in bloom, get rid of them where the seeds can’t generate new plants.
4. Add some mulch. A layer of organic mulch blocks light and helps keep weeds under control. As an added bonus, mulch keeps the roots cool and moist in summer, protects the plant in winter, and improves the soil as it decomposes. If bagged mulch costs more than you want to spend, try organic material such as chopped leaves, dry grass clippings, pine needles or straw.
5. Block out light. Like all plants, weeds can’t grow without sunlight. If you have a crop of weeds in autumn, pull or cut the offenders near the ground, and then cover the area with a piece of cardboard, several layers of newspaper (black and white only), or an old carpet. If the appearance bothers you, cover the area with a layer of mulch. The weeds should be dead by spring.
6. Last resort, herbicide. It’s best to avoid herbicides whenever possible, but if weeds have the upper hand, you can apply a chemical weed killer. For example, products containing glyphosate, a broad spectrum herbicide, are effective for home gardeners. You can also try homemade weed killers such as boiling water or mixtures containing white vinegar, vodka or cooking oil. Keep in mind that although safer, homemade solutions can still harm plants and soil when used improperly.