First, let’s start with the bad news – there’s not actually such a thing as a weed free garden. Sorry. Some weeds will always be a part of your garden reality.
But, I also have some good news…you can definitely have a weed less garden.
Dealing with lots of weeds in the vegetable garden, especially in summer, is a common complaint I hear from many gardeners.
A few months ago a fellow gardener said to me, “I hate going away in the summer for a week vacation because when I come back my garden is taken over by weeds.”
I was taken aback when they said this.
Why? Because this should absolutely not happen in your garden.
Let me repeat, you should be able to go away for a week at any time during the season and not come home to a garden mess. There are several points during the season where I go on vacation and when I return, my garden looks pretty much the same, except for surprisingly bigger plants.
In this article, you’ll learn how to incorporate some strategic techniques so you’ll spend less time weeding your garden and more time enjoying it.
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7 Techniques to Keep Weeds Out of Your Garden
It bears repeating – there is no such thing as weed free garden.
But in my opinion, hours spent weeding unnecessarily are a complete waste of time and something to be minimized as much as possible. I’d rather be out in my garden doing any other task than toiling under the hot sun pulling out weeds the size of my arm.
If that’s how you feel, too, here are some tips to move toward having the closest thing to weed free garden as possible.
#1: Mulch, mulch, and more mulch.
I can’t stress it enough, wherever there is bare soil, weeds will grow. The single most effective step you can take towards reducing weeds is to mulch your garden beds and paths so they don’t have any exposed soil.
The only time I have bare soil in my garden is when I’m waiting for newly planted seeds to germinate.
You can mulch your garden beds with hay, straw, leaves or grass clippings. I prefer marsh hay and sometimes use oat straw as well.
I also suggest keeping the soil in your paths covered. I’m married to an arborist, so woodchips are plentiful at our house, but you can also use pavers, bricks, gravel, landscape stone or anything else to help control weeds in your garden paths.
Remember – absolutely no bare soil!
I feel so strongly about this that I wrote an entire post about vegetable garden mulch.
#2: Get ‘em while they’re young.
It’s a daunting task to spend a whole day weeding your garden. So, don’t let it get to that point! A little bit of weeding every few days will keep the job manageable.
Having your garden as close to your house and regular traffic patterns as possible will help keep you motivated. I see my front yard garden from my couch, so I have a lot of incentive to keep it looking beautiful.
Once a week or so, I spend a half hour walking around my garden and pulling small weeds. If you can’t get the weeds out by the root with your hands, you should be using a garden fork instead (my favorite tool!) . If you leave the roots in the ground the weed will simply resprout.
Onions hate weeds! Keep them mulched and they’ll be much happier.
#3: The more you weed, the fewer weeds you’ll have.
I’ve seen this in my own garden. If you keep on top of your weeds, after a few years you’ll see the weed pressure slowly diminish. If you always let your garden get out of control in the summer, then you are consistently replenishing the weed seed supply.
With several perennial weeds that spread easily, like thistle and goutweed, we have a zero tolerance policy. We monitor certain areas of our yard and yank them as soon as we see a baby plant. We do not want them to spread.
For other less noxious weeds like clover and dandelion, I just try to make sure I get them out before they flower and go to seed.
#4: Change your expectations.
In my ideal world, I have a weed free garden. Sometimes I feel stressed out when a bunch of weeds are popping up throughout my yard. I want my gardening to be as enjoyable as possible, so a few years ago I decided to play a mind game with myself and change my expectations.
I decided to focus on the beauty of my garden and not on what wasn’t working quite right. Who cares if there are some weeds when I pop out to my front yard to harvest?
Instead, I concentrate on reveling in the colorful food I’m putting in my basket instead.
The goal of gardening is happiness – so whatever you need to do to evoke as much of it as possible from your garden, do it! Including mind games.
#5: Don’t weed alone.
I usually wait for my husband to join me to tackle major weeding projects. Four hands make quick work of this boring task. Thankfully, we don’t have to do this very often since we stay on top of the weeds in our yard.
Honestly, I don’t even really like spot weeding. It always feels like such a waste of time. One of my hacks, when I’m dreading a house or garden task, is to put in my earbuds and crank up some favorite music or an entertaining podcast to keep me company.
Sometimes I’ll even call a friend or family member and have a fun chat while weeding or doing other unexciting maintenance tasks (like thinning carrots).
#6: Smother instead of pulling.
In some areas of my garden, I’ve given up trying to pull the weeds. An especially tricky area is where the woodchip perimeter around my garden meets the grass. Grass is always on the move so it’s constantly popping up in the woodchips.
Instead of trying to dig out the weeds in this area, each spring I lay a thick layer of cardboard along that perimeter and cover it with about 12 inches of woodchips. That tidies up the area without a lot of extra work on my part.
In other areas of our yard where we have especially noxious weeds like goutweed and Japanese knotweed, we’ve spread down old vinyl billboards in an effort to completely smother and kill these weeds. We don’t use chemicals on our property, so we’re always searching out other effective ways of killing weeds.
#7: Establish a no-till garden.
The act of tilling brings many weed seeds up to the surface of the soil – just where they like it! The sun and warmth at the top encourage them to germinate and start growing.
If you left them where they were, in the cool and dark depths of the soil layers, they’d be much less likely to germinate and start outcompeting your vegetable seeds and seedlings.
Read more about why you should have a no-till garden.
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