Last updated on February 26th, 2022
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A handful of tips to control the weeds in your garden before they become a problem
Effective weed control is paramount and preventing weeds in the first place is actually much easier than trying to remove them. A few ways to help prevent weeds include using a mulch to block out sunlight, only watering the base of plants and not the whole flowerbed, spraying weeds when they are just seedlings instead of letting them establish, and then spraying and only turning over the soil when absolutely necessary because this brings dormant seeds to the surface which germinate. Finally, always take a few minutes to remove the flower heads of weeds that have started to flower.
If you were to track all the time you spend in your garden, chances are you would reveal an inordinate amount of time removing weeds. It can be rewarding at first to remove the weeds when they first crop up but after a while it becomes exhausting. Weeds can be dealt with in a variety of fashions and below we are going to look at some of the best ways to help prevent weeds so you can enjoy your garden more and do less manual weeding.
How to control weeds
The first step is to understand that every inch of your garden has weeds but only those weeds that are resting in the top inch or so of soil are able to get enough sunlight to trigger germination. When you are digging around you bring those hidden seeds all the way to the surface. To that end, you should only turn the soil over when you have to and immediately cover the area once you have completed your planting process with mulch.
Removing weeds with a narrow sharp blade in lawns
On a lawn, you want to minimise the amount of soil disturbance by using very sharp knives and narrow blades to cut through the roots of lawn weeds like dandelions. You should also remove any flower heads as soon as you notice them to avoid them going to seed. These seeds can remain dormant for an incredibly long amount of time so do not think that just after one season you are in the clear because this is probably not the case. Persistence is key here.
Use a layer of mulch and attract black beetles
Mulch as much as possible. Mulch keeps your soil cool and moist but it also prevents weeds from getting access to light. Organic mulch will typically contain carabid beetles (the black beetles you sometimes see) or crickets who will eat the weed seeds for you, beetles even eat aphids and slugs so will also help to keep pests at bay.
In some cases, the light will pass through the mulch and in worse case scenarios, you might find that your mulch actually contained seeds. It is important to replenish the mulch as necessary and make sure that you keep it ideally about 50mm deep. If you make it any thicker than this you will deprive your own plants of oxygen. If you have a yard with potted plants or raised beds you can cover the surrounding area with sheets of biodegradable fabric or cardboard, even newspaper to prevent light from getting through and then cover on top of that with mulch.
As a gardener, if you are tackling a new area in your garden or a new plot of land your first season will be the hardest. It is important to stick to a strict weeding schedule rather than doing it sporadically. Having a schedule and removing weeds incrementally will make it a lot easier to handle compared to tackling overgrown wild spaces.
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Spray with weedkiller when weeds have just germinated
The last option (which we try to avoid using if possible) is spraying them with a strong weedkiller. We recommend spraying weeds as they germinate and are small seedlings because spraying in this fashion is much more effective and they will simply die off back into the ground. This is a great option for paths and driveways too but if you have a large area of borders that are just soil you can spray these with weedkillers just as they start to break through the soil. Just be careful not to spray plants and only spray on calm days when there is no wind.
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When to kill weeds
If you spray weeds with a weedkiller, always spray when the growth is new, spraying weeds that are established is often much less effective. You often need to spray established weeds two or three times and even after this, they usually still need removing when you have done this because they look very unsightly. This is another reason why is better to spray before things get out of control.
It is always best to pull weeds after heavy rain. You can set yourself up with a sitting pad and a large tarp and start twisting out as many of the weeds as you can. If you try to pull them out in dry conditions they will just be cut off or pulled out right below the surface and eventually crop right back up because most of the root will be left in the ground.
What kills weeds permanently
There are chemical components you can use to kill weeds permanently but these will also harm the other plants in your garden, as we have just warned about. Realistically the thing that kills weeds permanently is simply removing their roots from your garden. When you remove them you want to pull up the weeds from the ground up. This is what includes some digging and in certain cases, you simply might not be able to remove all of the roots, which is why killing weeds is a regular process.
If you have incredibly large weeds and you simply can’t pull them out of the ground you can always cut off as much as you can. Deadheading will at least give you a few weeks of weed-free garden time but you will need to go back and keep pruning time and time again.
Plant spacing is important. Plant spacing will choke out any emerging weeds because the plants provide shade that inhibits the sunlight from reaching the weeds. If you space your plants together closely or use pots that are near one another you can usually cut out about 25% of your weed problems. Groundcover plants are perfect for this if you have a large area to cover.
Similarly, water the plants that you want to survive but not the weeds. If you have any type of drought going on, be careful to only water around the base of the plants you want to thrive. If you generically and haphazardly water your plants across all of the soil you will be giving water to the weeds you detest as well. In most climates depriving weeds of water is effective at reducing the germination rate by approximately 60%.
Beyond all of these tips, you can also enrich your soil with organic matter all the time. Fewer weeds will germinate in soil rich in organic matter. Healthy soil forces weeds out of a job to keep your soil healthy.