Knowing how to weed your garden doesn’t come naturally. One needs to learn it, yet I haven’t seen a lot of materials about this topic. Here are a couple of basics which will make a really big difference in ones gardening experience.
Obtain and Use Good Tools for Weeding.
Don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money right up front on tools, but when you get a tool, make it count. A good tool can make the work much faster and save the gardener a lot of frustration. There are only two tools I would personally purchase from a box store are a round tip shovel and a 2 1/2 lb mattock. Apart from that, I’d rather spend more and get higher quality.
The two hand tools, pictured above, are the two I consider most indispensable in my garden. The Korean hand plow (Homi) is amazing for weeding and is also my very favorite tool for planting sweet potato slips. The Japanese hand hoe is sharp and really cuts weeds, as well as skimming them off, while they’re small. The hand hoe is amazing for weeding between delicate plants and actually works better than most hand trowels for just about anything a hand trowel might be used for, even for planting transplants! Just remember, taste in tools is both a personal matter and somewhat affected by ones soil and conditions. My favorite tool may not be your favorite.
The Advantage of Buying Quality Tools: Quality can save you money!
Perhaps another time we will focus more on tools. Right now, let’s consider other important principles for how to weed your garden.
Weeding is easier when the weeds are small.
It’s easy to overlook them when they’re tiny, but give them a few weeks and they will be MUCH LARGER and much harder to remove. A quick pass with a hoe or trowel can greatly reduce your future work load. Get them while they’re small!
Weeding is easier when the soil is moist.
Any soil is easier to work when it’s properly hydrated. Some soils like the rocky clay in my garden, are much easier when they’re moist. I’ve tried to weed in dry conditions and ended up frustrated to tears, getting almost nothing accomplished. The same difficult patch of ground is quickly conquered when properly moist. The soil moves more easily and the weeds’ roots come free more easily when the ground is moist. If the place you want to weed is dry, water deeply, so the soil is moist 8″ down. If necessary, let it set for a day, and then try weeding. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is! Be careful though, don’t pull weeds if you’re going to get mud on the leaves of your plants. This can cause issues with disease.
Weeding is easier when done regularly.
It’s best to plan on some weeding almost every day. When you walk around in your garden, carry a tool for weeding. A long handle hoe, for instance, can make short work of a stray weed, saving you from having to bend over and pull. When harvesting from the garden, pull weeds that you encounter. Don’t wait, weed. The cumulative effect of this practice is to make the overall work load easier.
Learn to recognize weeds and crops.
I don’t know if I’ll ever learn the names of every stray plant that comes up in my garden, but I have learned to recognize them. Recognizing weeds on sight speeds the process and protects ones crops from being inadvertently harmed. Recognizing crops, especially when they’re just coming up, can prevent disaster. When I was a boy, my father sent me out into the garden to cultivate, and I destroyed an entire season’s worth of carrots, all tiny plants. After that, I learned to recognize a carrot seedling. It never happened again. I even pay attention to the feel of different plants. When weeding grassy weeds out of my beans, for instance, I can feel the difference between a grass and the thicker, rounder stem of a bean plant. I don’t pull if it doesn’t feel right.
Use Mulch and avoid leaving empty places in the garden.
Whenever possible lay down mulch between your plants and in between rows. Paper, cardboard, shredded paper (if there’s no plastic in it) and weeds that have been pulled, all make good mulch. My favorite is to use cardboard and then, when I pull weeds, lay them on top of it. This prevents them from rooting back into the soil, helps hold down the cardboard and adds to the benefits of the mulch.
Consider cover crops as a living mulch.
If you have an empty spot in the garden, consider planting something in that place. Soybeans, buckwheat, rye, oats, turnips, even beans or cowpeas all work well. There are many possible crops to plant for cover crops, depending on the climate and time of year. A cover crop can conserve moisture by protecting the soil from the direct rays of the sun. It will also reduce weeds by competing with them for light, and some cover crops will even improve the soil! Take a look at this article on cover crops by The Homestead Garden.
Weeding should become a part of you as a gardener. Eventually you may find yourself like me, having to resist the temptation of pulling weeds from the landscaping, while waiting in line at a restaurant or place of business! It becomes second nature.
Related article: Weeding 101: Weed Identification & Removal Guide
Mulch can be a big help for controlling weeds.