Weeding the garden can be a cumbersome and time consuming task. It seems like every time I feel like I’ve gotten a handle on things, more pop up and it gets out of control quickly. But, I’ve found that there are 5 incredibly effective ways to keep the weeds under control so I don’t have to spend so much time weeding.
Of course, weeds can be beneficial to your garden and your goal shouldn’t be to have a completely weed free vegetable plot. But, knowing what to pull, what to leave (yes, I said leave) and how to keep them under control can work in your favor. And allow you to spend more time harvesting and less time completing the back-breaking task of pulling weeds sun up to sun down in the blistering heat.
Use Corn Gluten Meal to Prevent Weeds
Corn gluten meal is a powdery byproduct of corn production and is often used as animal feed. But, it’s also a great organic method of preventing weeds. Provided it’s applied correctly.
Corn gluten meal works by inhibiting the growth of roots, though it does not prevent the weed seeds from germinating. Timing is paramount in the application of this substance.
This must be put down before any weeds have germinated. It will need watered in to the tune of about 1/4″ of water either by rainfall or hose/hand. It will then require at least a 2 day dry period to work. So, the right timing can be pretty difficult to pin down.
However, it will be effective for around 4-6 weeks, needing more frequent applications if it’s particularly wet, hot, or if your soil is substantially heavy.
Corn gluten meal is applied at about 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Additional applications are cumulative and it also provides nitrogen to the soil and plants. However, it is generally only effective on about 60% of the weeds.
This substance can be costly, can be difficult to time the application correctly, needs applied before any weeds have germinated, and will need reapplied quite frequently in the hot, humid summer months. But, it can be very effective if you can get it applied correctly.
Mulch Your Beds Generously to Smother Weeds
Weeds require light and warm soil to survive. Mulch, when applied properly, can help keep weeds at bay.
Mulch is also beneficial to not only your plants, but your soil. It helps keep soil cool and evenly moist. It also breaks down and provides nutrients to your soil. And it can attract beneficial insects like crickets and beetles that will eat the weed seeds before they ever have a chance to emerge.
To properly utilize mulch as weed control, you will need a nice, thick layer of about 2-3 inches to keep the weeds from popping through. When transplanting, you can mulch around them after you’ve transplanted them. If you’re direct sowing your vegetable seeds, you can wait until the seedlings have sprouted, pull up any weeds surrounding them and lay down the mulch leaving enough room for the plant to receive light.
When selecting mulch, choosing the right kind. Stone will not provide many benefits to your plants or soil and can actually make matters worse by compacting it. I save it for only the edges and walkways of the garden when I utilize it, not around the plants themselves.
Our mulch of choice is straw. However, you need to know your source when using straw since so much of it is sprayed, unbeknownst to a lot of farmers, with sprays that will kill your plants before they ever have a chance.
Hay is another good option assuming it hasn’t been sprayed and isn’t moldy. Which can, again, kill off your plants and or promote disease.
And of course, wood chips can be used. I would suggest chipped pine that hasn’t been treated or colored. Rubber is another up and coming option, but it can contain chemicals that I wouldn’t want leaching into the soil near food.
Use Vinegar as a DIY Weed Killer For Your Garden
Vinegar is eco-friendly and a great organic option for killing weeds in your garden. However, you must exercise caution.
Vinegar is a non-selective herbicide, so don’t go pouring it all over absolutely everything in the garden unless you want a bunch of dead plants. But, unlike a lot of commercial herbicides available it will not harm you, your animals, or wildlife.
Another note of caution is it can change your soil pH, so make sure you are mindful of what you’re doing so as to not change it so drastically that you have another problem on your hands other than the weeds.
Vinegar can be utilized all by itself, we use it in our driveway and along garden paths every year. There are horticulture vinegars available, but we just use plain ol’ store bought vinegar and have success with it.
We have a sprayer that we use and we just spray the weeds by concentrating the spray. You can also use a spray bottle if you don’t have a sprayer available.
It will take a couple of days to be effective, so make sure you spray when it isn’t supposed to rain, or you’ll just be doing it again. So, pick a dry, sunny day and spray every bit of the weed down to ground. Let it sit for a few days and it will shrivel up.
Like I said, just use caution and don’t spray it around the plants you want to keep. Vinegar works well in paths and on weeds that aren’t right up by your produce or flowers.
Pull Weeds By Hand When The Weather Is Right
Going out and trying to pull weeds when the ground is dry and the hot, blistering sun is shining down is not going to be particularly effective.
Wait until the ground is nice and wet after a drenching rain before going out to pull the weeds. Your back, and hands will thank you tenfold.
I have one of these that I use to pull weeds, but you can also use a fork. Just make sure the ground is nice and workable/wet before heading out. It makes it immensely easier to pull them up, root and all.
Over Plant to Smother Out Weeds
Planting in close proximity can sometimes work in your favor. It will shade the surrounding soil and prevent the weeds (that require light) to get a stronghold.
You can usually safely shave about a quarter off of recommended plant spacing and still be safe. While you don’t want to space plants so close together they’re competing with each other, giving them just enough can help keep the weeds at bay.
Another option is to interplant with companion plants that are spaced more closely together. This can help improve your yields, prevent weeds, and attract beneficial insects to your garden that will not only keep the garden pests at bay, but also eat some of those pesky seeds.
Use Geese or Ducks To Weed for You
While I don’t recommend throwing your backyard fowl into the garden while your plants are still tender, geese and ducks can be great at eating weeds and even some of the undesirables from your garden.
Some geese breeds, like the cotton patch goose, were traditionally utilized to weed large cotton fields and with great success.
I don’t recommend using chickens in your garden (though, there are ways to utilize them) simply because they will typically peck at your produce. Ducks and geese, on the other hand, don’t have sharp beaks, will typically leave your produce alone (once your plants are established) and will chew up the weeds without digging up the soil.
Just make sure your plants are already well established and not young and tender before you let them loose. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at their handiwork.