The number one question I see on gardening forums and Facebook gardening groups is, “how do I get rid of weeds in my garden,” or “what is the recipe for the homemade, organic weed killer.” My first instinct is to reply, “just pull the dang weeds.” I realize not everyone is crazy like me and enjoys pulling weeds. And, if I don’t take certain measures with all my gardening beds, I will be overrun with weeds. Today I’m sharing what works and what doesn’t work, along with tips on How to Deal With Weeds in Your Garden and Weed Prevention.
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Do Homemade Weed Killer Sprays Really Work?
There are so many “homemade” weed killer recipes just on Pinterest alone. Most of them start with a base of vinegar and add all sorts of other things like lemon juice, Dawn dishwashing detergent, salt, borax, bleach, boiling water, etc., etc. Many of these recipes tack “natural” or “organic” to the title and people wanting instant results flock to them. My favorite (said in jest) is “an alternative to chemical weed killers.” Humm, vinegar, Borax, bleach, Dawn dishsoap are chemicals and there’s nothing organic or natural about them.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they don’t work! Sure if you mix up one of these concoctions and spray weeds with it, the weeds will wither and turn brown, and there will even be pictures of the proof. But, are the weeds dead or gone for good? Chances are in a week or two, that weed will be right back at it, growing and annoying you. There is a horticultural vinegar that is touted as safe, but it’s acid and it’s toxic, and will burn skin if it comes in contact with it. Ouch! No thank you! The base of a healthy garden is the soil. Who really knows what these so-called safe weed killers do to the soil? I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, but I suspect these weed remedies will trash your garden soil.
When using some of these weed killing mixtures, yes, the weeds will look dead, but it is not systemic, meaning it doesn’t travel through the plant to get to the root. It simply kills what it comes in contact with. So again, it might look like it’s dead, but it will be back in a week or two. Plus, would you rather have a green weed, or a brown one? Said in jest, but don’t the dead looking things still have to be pulled?
Are Commercial Weed Killers Safe?
Let’s talk about Roundup, the herbicide made by Monsanto (or whatever company owns it now). I don’t like Monsanto and the politics behind promoting the giant corporation, but this isn’t the place for that debate. I think there is a place for Roundup, just not in our food supply. I’m also not sure it should be so readily available to people who want a quick fix to their weed problem and tend to overuse the stuff. If you decide you need to use Roundup, just use it as a last resort on weeds that can’t be dug out, or invasive species.
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How to Prevent Weeds in Gardens
If you can get weed prevention down, that is half the battle. No really, it’s more like 75% of the battle. Weed prevention will go a long way towards dealing with weeds in your gardens.
There are millions of weed seeds in your gardens just waiting to germinate. The more you cultivate the soil, the more seeds you’re bringing to the surface, the more you’re giving them a chance to germinate. Now that’s depressing news, isn’t it.
Here’s what I do to prevent weeds in my gardens:
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know that I’m a huge proponent of mulching. Always use a good, shredded wood mulch, not wood chips. Shredded mulch is much more dense than wood chips and will serve better to keep weeds out. If you can, buy mulch in bulk. We have purchased bagged mulch and bulk mulch that we had to haul or have delivered. The quality of the bulk mulch is so much better. I have no idea why, but that has been my experience.
Once I get a garden bed cleaned up in the spring and all the plants rearranged like I want, I will put down a thick layer of mulch. A good shredded wood mulch is best to reduce sunlight to weed seeds and choke them out. If the bed is new, I will also lay down a thick layer of newspaper around the plants before I mulch.
What About Using Preen As Weed Prevention?
If I’m working in a garden that was left unattended, once I get the bed cleaned out, I will use Preen. The use of Preen is controversial for some, because it can be dangerous to aquatic life. I definitely would not use it, if there was a chance it would run off into a body of water. I’ve also read that some say it will kill earthworms. I have not seen that to be the case at all in my gardens- the earthworms are alive and happy. Just a note on Preen – it is a pre-emergent, so it will not kill existing weeds. Preen only keeps new weeds from germinating.
Don’t Use Landscape Fabric as Weed Prevention in Flower Beds
Why? Because it does not work! And, you really don’t want it in a flower garden where you will be moving plants around and adding more plants. Plus, once dirt, debris and leaves accumulate on the top of the landscape fabric, weeds will grow on top of it. If you’ve ever tried to weed an area that has landscape fabric, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s a complete nightmare. The roots of weeds grow into the landscape fabric and they are impossible to pull.
If you’re thinking about using it in an area where you’re never going to plant or move plants, go ahead, but just know that it will never stop weeds from growing. I do use landscape fabric for walking paths and places where I’m never going to plant, but knowing full well I will need to do some weeding now and then.
How To Keep Weeds Out of Vegetable Gardens
After all your veggie plants are in and direct sown seeds are up a couple of inches, it’s time to add some mulch to the rows or in between the plants. I like to use grass clippings (use only clippings from untreated grass) and leaf clippings. If the grass clippings are fresh, keep them a few inches from your plants, because they can heat up while drying out and can potentially burn your new vegetable plants. As the grass and leaf clippings dry, they will form a mat and this mat will form a barrier to help keep weeds down. The clippings will also help fortify the soil as they break down. You will still have to pull some weeds by hand, but that will be minimal especially if you stay on top of it and don’t let the weeds get out of hand.
For walking paths, or between my raised vegetable beds, I use cardboard, newspapers or landscape fabric underneath a thick layer of mulch.
How to Clear A Weedy Overgrown Garden Area
When we moved into our fixer upper home in late summer of 2016, the gardens were an overgrown mess. When you’ve finished up here, go check out the makeover of this garden bed. It was a complete nightmare! On this huge tiered bed, I simply started digging, digging and more digging. So, if you’re dealing with a huge mess like mine, I would recommend just start on one end with a really good shovel.
I really pushed myself because this wasn’t the only mess that needed work, but I’m crazy. Really, just take your time and dig a little bit every day. If it’s going to take weeks or months to clean out an area, be sure to cover the part you’ve already dug with cardboard so you don’t have more weeds popping up.
With the makeover of this garden bed, I approached it differently. Yes, I dug the yucky plants and weeds out, but then I covered it all with cardboard. On top of the cardboard, I added a thick layer of shredded leaves and grass clippings and then left it for the winter. The next spring, I had a blank slate to work with.
On other areas in the yard, I’ve simply used the lasagna method to kill off grass and weeds. And that, has worked very well. Below is a picture of an area in my back yard where I used the lasagna method.
The Best Tools for Weeding
In addition to the shovel I mentioned above, this weeder, cultivator thingy has been a huge help. In some of my heavy duty garden makeovers, I’ve used it to break through root masses and rocky soil. Plus, it’s just an awesome multi purpose gardening tool and I use it just about every time I’m in the gardens.
I just purchased a stand-up weeder that was recommended by some other gardeners. There’s a learning curve to using it, but I’ve just about got it down and it’s going to work great. I’m hoping it will save my back.
A Few More Tips on How to Deal With Weeds In Your Garden
Unfortunately, we’re always going to have weeds, it’s just a part of gardening. To help deal with them, here are a few more practical tips:
- The best time to weed is after a rain shower when the ground is soft.
- Stay on top of weeding! Once weeds produce seed heads, your battle against weeds will greatly intensify.
- Spend 10-15 minutes every day to make a pass through your gardens and weed. Use it as a time to unwind.
- If you have a weed pit to contend with, don’t just leave it. The weeds will go to seed and you will have double the problem. If you can pull weeds, use a weed whacker.
- Be okay with imperfect. A few weeds here and there aren’t going to hurt anything. (This is for me!)
- Strictly personal preference here, but I do not throw weeds in the compost bin.
- You might hear packing plants in tight will help to avoid weeds. This isn’t my style of gardening, but if it’s yours go ahead and pack those plants in. Just be aware that some perennials, like Tall Garden Phlox and Bee Balm, need air to combat fungal diseases.
Related Posts You’ll Enjoy:
Flower Gardening 101
The Best Annual Flowers
Perennials You Don’t Want In Your Garden
Tips for Transplanting Perennials
Low Maintenance Flower Garden
Dealing with Garden Pests
Do you have any tips for dealing with weeds in your gardens that I didn’t cover? If so, please leave a comment and let me know. Also, if you have a question, feel free to ask in the comments section.
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