By Jane Milliman
When’s the best time to pull a weed? Yesterday. When’s the second best time? Now.
It’s an old joke, but there’s actually a lot of truth to it – the earlier you eliminate a weed, the less of a chance there is for it to multiply and take over the entire garden.
A weed is simply a plant growing where it’s not wanted. After all, one person’s wildflower is another person’s weed.
There are your usual suspects, those names that come to mind instantly when talking about weeds: dandelions, thistles, crabgrass and chickweed. But just what makes these – and others – such effective nuisances?
Weeds are naturally gifted with characteristics that let them spread easily. These characteristics include:
Weeds compete with grass and garden plants for space, light, water and soil nutrients. Not only do they look bad and have the ability to take over quickly, they’re also the perfect hosts for disease and insects. Before you know it, one weed can turn into many little thieves robbing your plants of their health.
The best way to prevent weeds from spreading throughout your garden is to stop them before they take root. Knowing how to prevent weeds means understanding the task is not a one-time job, but rather a continual garden chore. But even those who pull weeds begrudgingly do so knowing that preventing weeds as they appear, or quickly after they’ve sprouted, takes a lot less time than removing an established weed infestation. Consider taking the following actions for a weed free gardening experience.
Step 1: Cultivate with Caution
You can’t avoid tilling or hand cultivating when creating a new garden bed. It’s the best way to aerate the soil and incorporate organic material. What you don’t see is the buried weed seeds lying dormant just under the surface of the soil. Moving them to the top of the soil wakes them up and boosts them into germination. Once you’ve established a new garden bed, avoid unnecessary tilling and cultivating unless absolutely necessary.
Step 2: Apply a Pre-emergent
If you’re looking for how to stop weeds from growing in the first place, consider a chemical option. Pre-emergent herbicides stop weed seeds from germinating. They’re tailored to target specific combinations of weeds or weed families. Simply apply the pre-emergent to your garden before the weed seeds begin to germinate – in early spring or after cultivating. Pre-emergent is activated by water, so after treating the area, be sure to give it a good soak with Gilmour’s EZ Click Control Watering Nozzle set on the garden setting. The water application draws the herbicide down to the seed level for the best results.
Step 3: Mulch Your Beds
An effective and natural option to prevent weeds from taking over your garden is through the use of mulch. Apply a thick layer of organic mulch approximately 2 inches deep in the garden area – take care to avoid the base of individual plants and shrubs. Not only will mulch help the soil retain moisture, it also smothers out any small weeds and creates an unfriendly environment for tilled up weed seeds. While non-organic mulches (such as landscaping fabric and plastic) last much longer than organic mulches (like pine needles, cedar and leaves), they don’t break down to create a healthy soil environment.
Step 4: Grow Plants Closely
Weeds just love the open, sunny spaces between garden plants. Plant vegetables, flowers and shrubs at the closest recommended spacing. Consider using block spacing instead of growing in rows to eliminate the open areas weeds tend to pop up in.
Step 5: Eliminate Hitchhikers
Young plants from the local nursery can introduce new weeds to your garden. Weed seeds are great at spreading, even in a nursery environment. Inspect all new transplants closely to ensure they aren’t bringing in any undesirable friends. If you spot seeds or sprouts, simply pull them out before transplanting into your garden.
Step 6: Get to Pulling
It can seem endless, but consistently weeding your garden will pay off. For every weed remove before it goes to seed, you effectively eliminate hundreds of its offspring. Commit to a weeding schedule and stick to it. The perfect time for weeding is while the soil is moist and plants are young. Gently pull weeds at their base (disturbing as little soil as possible) and discard away from the garden. If you encounter difficult roots, insert a sharp knife or Cape Cod weeder into the ground to sever the weed from its roots without disturbing the ground or mulch around it.
Step 7: Create a Drought
If you water the entire garden, open spaces will become the perfect breeding ground for weeds. Deprive weeds of water by using a soaker hose to add moisture just where it’s needed – at the base of garden plants. By only watering these areas, you narrow down where weeds may pop up.
Step 8: Plant a Cover
Many vegetable gardens lie dormant during winter months. Some annual weeds actually pop up during cool weather, like chickweed and deadnettle. You may be asking yourself how to prevent weeds from growing in gardens without any plants or mulch. Keep these weeds from germinating and taking over your yard by planting a little bit of competition. Cool season cover crops, like ryegrass or clover, create a barrier for weeds by competing for light, water and nutrients. Simply till them under in early spring to introduce organic material and nutrients into the soil.
When creating the perfect environment for your lawn and garden, you’re unfortunately crafting the ideal location for weeds to thrive. But knowing how to prevent weeds in garden areas is actually pretty simple when following these steps. Take the time now to prevent weeds from taking root and save yourself hours of weeding in the future!
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