In June, all greenery, planned and unplanned happily takes advantage of summer weather to explode in height, width, and color. Everything grows so fast that after staying away from a garden for a day, it’s impossible to return to the exact same place. And so, June marks yet another important month of weeding – that persistent task that follows gardeners through the length of the growing season.
On our farm, we strive to attain a weeding rhythm, with the key now being to simply “maintain.” After all our beds are prepared and planted, we use upright tools on a regular basis to simply maintain weedlessness, getting to all the weeds when they are small before they grow big and become a nuisance. Going through the rows on our feet, equipped with a hoe or a wheel hoe, makes for faster and easier work for us, and in turn, makes growing a faster and easier task for our plants. Now, although weeding is still a part of our everyday schedule, it does not feel like the most exhausting and time-consuming gardening chore.
Aside from quickly occupying any available piece of bare ground and making it harder to harvest (or see) the veggies, weeds compete with your plants for water, nutrients, and light. Weeds also create habitats for bugs and critters, causing potential pest problems and increasing the chance of disease. To avoid these problems, we've put together a few suggestions for efficient and successful weeding:
Relax, and stay on top of weeds. Weed by hand first, then maintain with tools; the former can be done in any weather, the latter only on a dry day. Find the right rhythm for you and your garden: perhaps spending 10 minutes weeding every day is all that you need in order to maintain clean rows of happy vegetables. Don’t forget to relax too – weeding is a meditative process …… If you go on vacation, you'll come back to hand weeding and that’s okay. It’s even okay to have a few weeds here and there, as long as they aren’t hurting your plants. But do try not to let them flower or set seed to prevent them from spreading. If they are faster than you and you run out of time to pull them all, just pinch or chop off the flower heads or seed pods of mature weeds to buy yourself a little time before they bloom again. If you fall behind, pick your battles by prioritizing weeding the plants that seem most stressed by weed pressure.
Find the right tools. The plethora of available weeding instruments is easy evidence of the importance of this task in home gardening. On our farm, our most popular weeding tools are the wheel hoe – a walk-behind hoe that’s great for quick weed eradication in the pathways between plants; and a cultivator – a tiny hoe for precise weeding close up and between each plant. For tall, unruly weeds that aren’t directly next to our plants (such as the grass along the fence line), we use a sickle or a scythe to cut them down to the base. Yard sales are often where great weeding tools hide out. Before purchasing, consider borrowing a new tool from a friendly gardener to see if it’s right for you. And, remember to sharpen your tools throughout the season, especially after a few heavy uses. Take a look at the tools available in our catalog for weeding inspiration and motivation!
Quick growing, warm-season annual cover crop.
Quick growing, warm-season annual cover crop.
Know that weeds love bare soil. Mulching and planting cover crops are two effective ways to cover the soil and reduce uninvited plants. Also, be sure to keep pathways between plants weed-free, otherwise, the weeds will quickly jump from the cramped pathway to the spacious bare soil of your beds.
During the summer, we sow any empty beds with buckwheat. Buckwheat grows quickly, and effectively prevents weeds from germinating and taking over. It is easily killed by mowing at flowering, and turns in quickly. Read more about using cover crops in this post.
Water carefully. When watering from a watering can or a hose, aim the stream only at the plants you want to grow, not the weeds you want to lose.
Aerate the soil, but leave the weed seeds. Hoeing a bed to aerate the soil is great for eliminating surface weeds (leave them on the bed surface on a sunny day to quickly dry them out) but be mindful that you are not disturbing more than the top five inches of soil. Weed seeds can hide out in the soil dormant for years, until they are brought close enough to the surface to germinate. Keep them lying where they are by keeping heavy soil disturbance such as tilling to a minimum.
Compost or repurpose on your kitchen table. If the weeds you pull leave the garden, they take much valuable nutrients with them. To keep nutrients in place, compost the weeds and return them to the beds once they turn into rich compost (just be sure your compost pile is hot enough to kill any weed seeds). The one exception to this rule are edible weeds: your garden won’t suffer if you take a few weeds back to the kitchen. Many of the most common garden weeds are edible and highly nutritious for humans too, not just for soil. Take a look here for a few suggestions.
For a comprehensive overview of the most common and persistent garden weeds and the methods of eliminating them, take a look at this PDF packet from Cornell University.