When you first start to work your outdoor soil, you’ll usually find a lot of early weeds waiting for you.
A weed is loosely defined as any unwanted plant in your garden. In many cases, the plants that we consider weeds are actually the native plants that thrive in this environment. They are often edible so, before you pull all of the weeds in your garden, consider whether you can use any of them – for food, for pollinator attraction, and even for beauty.
Start by never leaving any soil bare during the growing season. Any large gaps between your vegetables should be covered by companion plants such as lettuce, carrots, onions, radish, basil, marigolds, or nasturtiums – otherwise the weeds will happily step into the empty space. These are largely light-feeders that will enhance the growth or flavour of your primary vegetables while taking up any empty space before the weeds do – plus they have the added bonus of providing you with extra harvest!
Next, try to prevent weed spread by applying mulch in your garden’s paths or gaps, to prevent new seeds from landing or germinating, and by edging your garden to prevent the rhizomes of weeds from entering into the soil and creating new weeds. Rhizomes are underground stems used by plants to reproduce; they travel underground and will re-root when they find an ideal space.
If you take the right steps upfront, you can reduce the efforts in weeding later, which is generally a very worthwhile investment. In addition, when weeding is done consistently, the process gets easier each year.
Identifying and Controlling Weeds
Unfortunately, the best weed prevention practices won’t stop all weeds from growing. If you do have weeds, your first step is to determine which ones can stay and which need to go by figuring what type of weed it is. You usually only have to do this exercise a few times as the same weeds tend to grow from one year to the next – so you’ll get to know them well. The easiest way to identify weeds the first time is through the numerous smartphone apps that exist – feel free to reach out for suggestions. In addition, there are numerous websites and books that list all of the common weeds for your area by season, which is helpful as weeds generally tend to appear at the same time each year.
Once you know which weeds you have, research their degree of invasiveness, whether they’re edible, and how they’ll look in your garden. I always allow several ground cherry, broadleaf plantain, Queen Anne’s lace, and yarrow plants to grow in the garden as they aren’t too invasive and they provide food, medicine, and beneficial insect attraction to the garden.
For the weeds that need to go, pull them before they spread. Aim to pull all parts of the weed, including the roots and any underground rhizomes that are used by the plants to spread. This process is made easier when you haven’t yet planted your own vegetables. Once your vegetables are in the ground, you’ll risk disturbing them when you pull the weeds out – at that point, switch your weeding technique to scraping the top of the soil and severing the weed stems using a hoe or weed bandit.
Of course, the amount of time you spend weeding will be much faster if you try to prevent the weeds from germinating in the first place. Never let the weeds flower!!! While this may not always be realistic as they go to seed quickly, you can certainly reduce their germination if you keep your eye on the garden.