Weeds in the Garden

Weeds are the bane of gardeners. Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t pull weeds, most of it unconsciously. When I spot a sprout popping up in a place it shouldn’t be as I make my garden rounds, I’ll remove it and keep on moving with hardly a second thought. Though individual plants disappear, with time, especially a long time with lots of sun and rain, weeds multiply and can become a major garden problem. That’s when they become a real nuisance.

A pepper overwhelmed by grass

To begin, a weed is any plant growing in any place you don’t want it to grow. Many people think a weed is a wild plant that dominates an area, but to a gardener even beloved plants can be weeds. This season I have removed tomatoes, sunflowers, beans, and lamb’s ear from various plots because they sprouted where they didn’t belong. This being said, the majority of weeds are plants that offer no benefit to a gardener and are wild in nature.

In an uncultivated area they may pose no issue, but when these plants begin competing with vegetables, flowers, and other garden plants gardeners need to step in and halt the competition. All garden plants pull water and nutrients from the soil and soak up the sun’s rays. A weed threatens the water, nutrient, and sun absorption of plants we are trying to grow. Left unchecked the dominant one overwhelms the weaker and too often the dominant plant is a weed.

A weed-free garden will produce stronger fruit, vegetables, and flowers than one that is overrun. I suggest that the amount of time and effort devoted to weeding is proportional to the quality and quantity of a garden’s harvest.

Effective weeding begins by identifying which plants are the preferred ones. You have to know what plants you want to keep and what plants are interfering.

My vegetable and flower beds are as ordered as I can make them. My Daylilies are grouped together so when another plant moves in it’s a weed, regardless of what type of plant it is. My tomatoes, beans, spinach, and squash all have specific plots; anything else growing in those plots is a weed. By specifying what grows where, weed identification becomes easy.

Weeds are easy to spot in this leek bed

Dealing with weeds early is an important factor. Removing them before they produce seeds and become established is critical. A handful of young, unwanted plants can be easily pulled. Dozens and hundreds may require more drastic mechanical or chemical action. Many notorious weeds distribute thousands of seeds from a single plant (15,000 from a dandelion). Eradication can become virtually impossible if a single plant is allowed to propagate.

Use mulch at every opportunity. Mulch reduces weeds by limiting the soil’s exposure to the sun, an important component for weed seed germination. The plants that do grow through the mulch are easy to spot and often have a weaker root structure while young; the roots are growing in the mulch and not firmly in the soil.

Small weeds are easy to spot in mulch

Devote a portion of your gardening activities to weeding. Though I pull weeds every day, this week I dedicated my chores on a “weed day” to systematically move from bed to bed removing every weed. It wasn’t terribly difficult because I mulch routinely and pull often. But even I was surprised to find the number of small plants trying to gain a foothold underneath branches and leaves that could only be seen by squatting and pulling aside the leaves.

Learn about the important weeds in your area and which methods can control them. In the U.S., the federal and most state governments have identified invasive and noxious weeds that should be removed when recognized in the landscape. In my area one of them, Myrtle Spurge, has been identified as a noxious weed and is outlawed, but I still see many gardens in town that grow the ornamental plant.

Know what your garden plants should look like at different life stages. Remember what your most common weeds look like when they’re young. It doesn’t help you when you pull out a small vegetable plant thinking that it’s a weed.

Be aware of the difference between annual and perennial weeds. Typically annual weeds will die at the end of the season and will only propagate by seed. Prostrate spurge, crabgrass, and common purslane are annual weeds. Perennial weeds have extensive root systems with deep taproots or rhizomes that send up new shoots each year. Dandelion, quackgrass, and white clover are perennials that aren’t easily controlled.

Generally, you can control many annual weeds by just pulling them as I’ve already mentioned or by tilling or using a hoe. Perennial weeds need to have most or all of the root system dug up to eliminate future plants and can also sprout from seeds, a double threat. Simply pulling the stem and shallow roots of an annual weed should kill it, but doing the same with a perennial may have little effect.

There are weed seeds everywhere. Unless you begin with sterile soil in a covered greenhouse, your soil is likely to have weed seeds in it. Even if it doesn’t now, it will as soon as the wind blows. You may have removed every dandelion from your lawn but a single plant in your neighbor’s yard will create problems for you when you’re downwind. Weeding will always be a part of gardening.

Know that you can create your own weeds. If you allow your flowers to set seed and self-sow, you may have to deal with the plants that result. I enjoy letting my plants fill in bare areas, in beds that they’re allowed, but at some point flowers need to be deadheaded to avoid overwhelming nearby plants.

Keep your garden healthy. Proper watering, fertilization, pruning, and soil amendment will help make your plants strong. Robust plants can easily be the dominant ones when weeds try to move in. Filling a bed with healthy plants won’t allow weeds the opportunity to establish.

Get in the habit of dealing with weeds one on one. Don’t walk by a new weed in your garden without pulling it. Lots of little gestures like that can prevent major activity later.

I’ll discuss processes of weeding en masse in another article. I have my favorite methods, as do many dedicated gardeners. This year I’m staying on top of my weeding and have very few problems in my flower and vegetable beds, but that hasn’t always been the case. I’ll share my weeding dilemmas soon.


One response to this post.

  1. Thank you so much for those kind words.


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