It has often been said that a weed is merely a plant that is growing where it isn’t wanted.
The thing about weeds is that they are aggressive enough to grow in all the wrong places – competing with other plants by spreading out via long stems or rhizomes, or by dispersing an abundance of seeds all over your garden.
The first step to combating those unwanted plants is to get to know them. Make a note of the weeds you’ve seemingly managed to eliminate, as well as the ones that are giving you a lot of trouble.
If it seems as if weeds keep popping up like a game of Whack-a-Mole, then focus on eliminating one species at a time. Identify your weeds with a quick Internet search, and learn how to effectively remove them.
Pulling weeds doesn’t have to be as hard as pulling teeth. Follow these tips to make weed-pulling a snap.
The right tools for the job
Those fork-like cultivators are good for newly sprouted weeds, but are practically useless with established ones. Invest in a sharp steel trowel or a garden knife to help you slice into the soil and go below the toughest weeds.
For deeply rooted and established weeds, use a spade or mattock to remove them once and for all. Wear gloves to protect your hands from irritants, spines, thorns, and other nasty things, but don’t be afraid to take them off to gently pull weeds with brittle, breakable stems.
When to weed
Pull weeds when the soil is moist, so that the roots will easily slip out without leaving living roots and rhizomes. If you’re weeding in summer, do it in the morning or late afternoon, when the temperatures are comfortable.
Rather than pulling all of the weeds in your garden at once, weed a little every couple of days so nothing gets missed.
How weeds spread
Understand your enemies and learn how they grow.
Some, such as nutsedge and plantain, grow in stubborn clumps and have tough, fibrous roots that are hard to yank up. Use a trowel to lift these below the crown, where the roots meet the stem, and gently remove the whole plant by tugging on the crown with your other hand.
Some weeds spread by runners, rhizomes, and rambling stems. While crabgrass is fairly easy to remove, others have much tougher rhizomes.
Remove quackgrass, torpedograss, and other aggressive rhizomatous weeds by digging deep with a mattock or spade to remove every last rhizome.
Weeds with brittle rhizomes, such as dollarweed and dayflower, are trickier because their rhizomes often break off and re-grow. Use a trowel to remove soil around the plant, and use your hands to gently lift the long, brittle rhizomes.
Many weeds get around by producing hundreds or thousands of seeds, spreading them all over your garden. Dislodge new seedlings with a hoe or cultivator, or pull them out by hand before they get a foothold in the soil.
Prevent weeds from returning
Resist the temptation to toss pulled weeds to the side, since any attached weed seeds and/or roots will easily sprout again and begin the cycle anew. Keep a bucket or bag handy so you can stash the weeds that you pull, and let them bake in the sun until the next time you go outside. Once dead, either add them to the compost heap or bag them up for trash collection.
Even if you remove every last weed from your garden, they will still make their way back – whether through seeds blown by the wind, deposited along with bird droppings, or as hitchhikers in nursery plants. You must be vigilant and pull weeds immediately whenever you spot them.
Sure, you can let it slide if you want, but every weed can contain a hundred more duplicates in its seedpods and roots. You might as well pull them up before they get established.
Avoid disturbing the soil if possible, since dormant weed seeds will readily sprout when exposed to sunlight. This is one of the many reasons you should use mulch or groundcovers.
If possible, mulch immediately after weeding to prevent new seeds from reaching the soil, and to keep buried seeds from getting sunlight and sprouting.
Landscape fabric can be an effective barrier, but use it sparingly since it also prevents water and beneficial organisms from reaching the soil.
Instead, place a layer of newspaper, several sheets thick, between the mulch and soil. It will biodegrade over time, and it’s also cheap and easy to replace.
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