I’ll be honest, gardening has to be one of my favorite pastimes.
Even before we started this whole farming adventure, I enjoyed working for hours on end in my garden, helping to cultivate plants and create a delicious harvest to be preserved for the winter season.
There’s one gardening chore that I – like probably anybody – absolutely hate.
Weeds are an undeniable truth of having a garden, and while there’s not always a lot that you can do to prevent them from appearing altogether, there are some quick hacks you can engage to keep them out of your garden for the most part.
Here are some simple strategies to help you reduce the amount of weeds in your garden – and to save your poor knees from all that weeding!
**J&R Pierce Family Farm is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to allow sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products on Amazon. I often link to Amazon when recommending certain products, and if you choose to purchase, I may earn a small percentage of the sale. It costs you nothing extra, and all recommended products are ones that I personally vouch for. **
What are Weeds?
Technically, a weed is just any unwanted plant that grows in your garden. It can be an annual a perennial, a tree or a shrub. It can even be invasive or native! Heck, mint could even be considered a weed once it gets out of hand.
Contrary to popular belief, weeds actually serve a crucial role in the garden. Although they are unsightly, many weeds are edible. They can serve as beneficial pollinators and they can also help fix nitrogen.
Weeds can also tell you a lot about your soil. Weeds with extensive tapoorts, like dandelions, are frequently found in soil that is heavily compacted. Other plants, like creeping buttercups, might do well in heavy soil without a lot of organic matter.
If you have weeds, before you go crazy trying to decimate them, think about what they might be trying to tell you. You can learn a lot about your soil health – as well as whether you have a problem that needs to be addressed.
1. Leave Some Weeds Alone
Just about every square inch of your garden contains some kind of weed seeds. However, only the seeds that are within the top two inches of soil will get enough light to actually germinate. As a result, it sometimes makes more sense to leave that section of weeds alone.
When you cultivate and dig in your soil, you expose weed seeds to the surface, making it easier for you to encourage the growth of weeds. When you till your garden, you are actually doing more harm than good.
Consider some of these no-till alternatives when you’re weeding your garden.
You can also reduce the amount of damage and soil disturbance you create by using a sharp knife with a thin blade to cut through the stubborn roots of lawn weeds. This will eliminate the weeds without exposing yourself to more heartache later on.
Remember, weed seeds can lie dormant for a really long time – even when they’re in a compost bin.
2. Be consistent.
The smaller the weed, the easier it is to pull. If you can get out in your garden every week – or even better, every day! – to do some pulling, your work will be a lot lighter.
Adding mulch to the garden is one of my favorite hacks to keep it neat and tidy. It also reduces your watering needs and helps prevent other problems related to your soil.
When you mulch your garden, you limit the amount of light that can get through to the soil beneath. I recommend mulching to about two to three inches deep – but no deeper. Mulch that is thicker than three or four inches can actually deprive the soil of oxygen.
Check out this link to figure out the best ways to mulch your garden. My favorite method of mulching is sheet mulching, in which I use a light-blocking sheet of cardboard with either red cedar mulch (for my landscaping flower beds) or straw (for my raised vegetable beds) spread on top of them.
Some people recommend landscaping fabric. I’m not a fan. As soon as new organic matter gets on top of the fabric – like grass clippings, for instance – they will start to root into and on top of the fabric. Then, it can be really difficult to get the weeds pulled out of the ground.
4. Weed after a heavy rain
I hate to say it, but sometimes you’re just going to need to bite the bullet and go out and weed your garden. Don’t wait for the driest, sunniest day possible, though – instead, weed after it has rained. This will allow you to pull up roots much more easily.
There is one caveat to this.
If you have to cut weeds instead of pulling them (which might be necessary if you are weeding around small seedlings that haven’t quite established themselves yet), you might want to wait for a dry day. Weeds that are sliced off just below the soil will die almost immediately without moisture, particularly if your hoe is sharp.
5. Be careful with your composting.
If you’re composting weeds, be careful. You don’t want to encourage the spread of weeds in your garden by failing to kill the seeds when you toss them in the compost bin.
To combat this, run your compost nice and hot. Add Plenty of organic matter and make sure you are turning it regularly to get things going. Using a tumbler compost system can also help to do this for you.
Because I’m pretty lazy about turning my compost (I know, it’s embarrassing), I have a different technique that I like to employ to get rid of weeds.
I feed them to my sheep!
As I’m weeding the garden, I carry a five-gallon bucket with me and fill it up as I go. Then, when the bucket is full, I dump it in my sheep pen and let them go to town. They love eating the weeds, and this way I know the seeds aren’t being reintroduced to my vegetable garden.
6. Off with their heads.
Sometimes you won’t be able to remove weeds entirely. However, if it’s an annual weed, you can deadhead it before the seeds set back in. if it’s a perennial weed you can also reduce the likelihood of reseeding by cutting off the tops of the plants.
7. Ignore spacing recommendations.
I got the purpose of the spacing guidelines on seed packets. I really do. Plants are meant to grow with a certain amount of space between them, and if you plant too closely, you are going to be subjecting your plants to a wide variety of pests, diseases, and other problems.
Plant too far apart, and you will have weed-friendly spaces that will quickly become overgrown. I usually take at least a quarter of the amount off the recommended spacing – so if it says to leave a foot between plants, I leave nine inches.
8. Invest in soaker hoses.
There are a lot of problems associated with watering your plants from above. Not only does water-soaked foliage become more susceptible to fungal diseases and pests, but it also increases the likelihood of weed seed germination.
After all, why would you want to water the weeds?
Instead, invest in soaker hoses or drip hoses beneath your mulch. This will irrigate your plants while ignoring the plants that you don’t want to grow.
9. Keep things fertile.
Enriching your soil with organic matter every time you can will help keep weeds out, too. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s harder for weed seeds to germinate in soil that is regularly treated with fresh compost.
10. Sprinkle some salt or cornmeal on the garden.
Cornmeal is expected to be a good weed deterrent. Unfortunately, it can also prevent other types of seeds from germinating, too, so you’ll want to wait until your plants are established to try out this technique. The same theory goes for salt, which can also be spread liberally throughout the garden.
11. Use a mixture of vinegar, dish detergent, and water.
This combination helps kill weeds almost instantly, serving as an excellent natural herbicide. Make sure you don’t accidentally splash any on your plants that you actually want though – it will kill them, too. I recommend using a backpack sprayer like this to apply your all-natural weed killer.
12. Create physical barriers.
If you haven’t spent some time on your landscaping in awhile, it might be time to consider some unique alternatives to keep weeds out. You can add some lawn edgings or retaining walls, for instance, to keep weeds away. Make them out of scraps, rocks, or pressure-treated decking boards and you’ll be good to go.
13. Enlist professional help.
No, you don’t have to hire anyone. But if you have herbivores – like sheep or goats — you can put them to work on your property.
I wouldn’t recommend doing this in your garden – these animals obviously won’t be able to discriminate between what’s a “good” plant and what’s a weed – but if you have large sections of property that need to be cleared, have the animals doing it!
Our sheep have cleared a path about two inches out from their fence – they just stick their heads through the wire and go to town. I’ve never had to weed whack it!
14. Eat them up.
There are so many weeds that you can actually eat! You might want to consider purchasing a copy of a book like Stalking the Wild Asparagus which will tell you which sprouts are edible and which are toxic.
Dandelion wine, anyone?
15. Give ‘em a bath…or make them a drink?
Some people recommend dumping boiling water on the weeds to kill them. Again, this is an effective technique if you are able to target the water to only the weeds you want to kill – and you don’t hit your plants!
You can also make a vodka cocktail to get rid of weeds. This is a great solution for tight spaces, like in the cracks in your driveway that have weeds sprouting up. All you need to do is combine an ounce of vodka with a few drops of dish soap and two cups of water. Put it in a spray bottle, spray during mid-day (when the sun is hottest) and let the alcohol go to town.
16. Consider a cover crop.
If you have problems with early spring weeds, it might be time to consider planting a fall cover crop. These plants will go dormant over the winter and then reappear in the spring, choking out your weed seeds. They’ll also help fix nitrogen in the soil and improve your soil structure for the upcoming growing season.
Some to consider include:
- Winter peas
- Fava beans
- Winter Rye
17. If they’re not hurting anything, leave them be.
Some plants were put there for a reason. Many weeds are actually native plants and they can improve the ecosystem in so many ways, from providing food to bees and other pollinators to helping improve soil health.
The bottom line is that if they aren’t impeding the growth of your other plants, you might as well let them lie.
18. Set fire to them!
I’ve never tried this technique (frankly, it makes me nervous -what would Smokey the Bear think?) but I’ve heard of lots of people who simply set their undesired weeds on fire.
I guess that’s one way of doing it.
One more important tip – make sure you keep your garden clean! Gardening tools that are not sterilized or plant matter that is left in the garden over the winter can easily spread weed seeds – as well as other diseases. So take time in the fall to clean up and you won’t have quite as many tasks on your springtime to-do list!
What other tips do you have for getting rid of weeds in the garden? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!
Subscribe to our email newsletter for regular tips and tricks on homesteading – wherever you are. You can also follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for frequent updates. Happy homesteading!