Using organic weed control

Organic Weed Control for Gardens

Weeds are the bane of every gardener’s existence. Is it too much to ask for a weed-free, colorful, and tidy garden? If you ask a weed, it would say, “Well, yes.” But we say a resounding “No!” What if you could stop those pesky weeds before they actually get going? While it does take time and persistence, organic weed control is within your reach, and we’ve rounded up our best tips for getting  (and keeping) them out. So watch out, nutgrass, dandelions, and crabgrass — we’ve got our eyes on you!

What Do Weeds Need to Survive?

By their nature, weeds are tough buggers and that’s how they survive. But, they are still plants with all the usual plant needs of sunlight, soil, and water. So, the key to stopping them before they start is to starve or crowd them out — basically make your garden inhospitable to them. But remember, some plants when they are young seedlings are difficult to identify, so if you think you may have some wildflowers that blew in, wait to ID them before deciding they’re weeds. You may want those in your garden.

How to Stop Weeds in Their Tracks

  • Mulch. It deprives weeds of light, so aim for a 2”-3” thick layer at all times. Don’t go overboard, though — more than 3” thick can deprive your soil of oxygen.
  • Cover soil surface before you mulch. Because light can still pass through gaps in chunky mulch, consider adding an additional light-blocking layer between your soil and mulch. A thickness of cardboard, newspaper, or biodegradable fabric works well.
  • Avoid tilling. Not only does tilling disturb your soil’s texture and structure, it can waken dormant weed seeds. Weed seeds in the top inch or two of soil are the most prone to germinating, so keep this in mind when tending your garden and working the soil.
  • Perform a weekly garden patrol. Nothing beats a regular walk-through in your garden to stay on top of potential problems. Aim for a weekly garden patrol to identify weed issues to avoid things getting out of hand. Once weeds have taken over, it’s much more costly and backbreaking to get them out.
  • Install edging. Installing a border between your grass and the garden is a great way to keep out grass and any weeds that may accompany it. Steel/metal, mortared stone, or a simple deep trench edging are all effective in stopping potential encroaching weeds.
  • A thick layer of mulch is a gardener’s best friend. While it also maintains soil moisture, mulch goes a long way to suppress weeds and keep them at bay. I like to add 2-4” of mulch in my gardens, making sure to avoid heaping it up on the base of the plant. Use native hardwood shredded mulch, pine needles, or any other mulch recommended for your area.
  • Consider solarizing. While it takes time and is not the most attractive option, it works. Clear the area as much as you can (string-trimming works well), moisten thoroughly, then spread clear plastic over the entire area. Secure edges with heavy rocks, and let the sun bake those weeds away. Tip: Solarizing is best for broad weedy areas with no valuable plants, as this method will kill anything underneath the plastic.
  • Hand-pull or use a tool. The time-honored practice of hand-pulling weeds or using a tool like a hoe or hand-held weeder is a great way to remove a few errant weeds around your prized roses. Pulling weeds after a rainstorm when the soil is moist but not soggy, making it easier to get the whole root, leaving less of a chance for the root to stick around. Need to weed in dry conditions? Slice off the weeds below the soil line so the roots shrivel up and die.
  • Remove seed heads. Sometimes you just can’t get outside to get all the weeds out. In that case, simply lop their heads off. This keeps your weeds from “reseeding” the next generation.
  • Plant thickly. Design your garden with mass plantings that eliminate weed-friendly gaps and spaces. Plants that are more closely planted shade the soil in between, naturally stopping weeds before they get going.
  • Add organic matter to your soil regularly. Get into a habit of enriching your soil with compost or other organic matter — weed seeds seem to prefer soils that are less nutrient-rich. Go figure. It’s as if they prefer to live life on the edge — and that’s okay.
  • Use an organic weed killer. It’s never recommended to use a chemical weed killer, but remember, even organic ones can kill anything it comes into contact with. Use boiling water on select weeds, or choose an organic product that contains 20% horticultural vinegar.

Gardener with hands full of of tree bark mulch.  Hand pulling out weed in garden

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