Techniques for a Weed Free Garden

Eliot Coleman shares four simple techniques for a weed free garden, includes advice on preparing the soil and proper tools for weeding.

| June/July 2003

  • Try these four tried-and-true techniques to stay weed free.
    Try these four tried-and-true techniques to stay weed free.
  • The thin, angled blade of the collineal hoe lets you easily sweep away weeds.
    The thin, angled blade of the collineal hoe lets you easily sweep away weeds.

  • Try these four tried-and-true techniques to stay weed free.
  • The thin, angled blade of the collineal hoe lets you easily sweep away weeds.

Learn these techniques for a weed free garden by using these four simple methods and two special hoes.

Weeds probably discourage more potential gardeners than any other single problem. "Oh, the garden was overgrown with weeds and we finally gave up" is a common explanation of many frustrated gardeners, but it doesn't need to be that way. Have you ever heard anyone say, "Oh, the living room finally got so dusty that we just stopped using it"? We don't stop enjoying the living room because of dust. We simply vacuum or sweep every so often to keep the room clean. It's the same for your garden: Regularly cleaning your garden by weeding is one of the keys to keeping your crops productive and your enthusiasm strong. Here are the top weed-prevention strategies, simple techniques for a weed free garden plus the two best weeding hoes.

First, don't dig the garden. Plowing or deep tilling buries weed seeds, then brings them back up. Let buried seeds stay buried. Most weed seeds germinate only in the top two inches of soil.

Don't let weeds go to seed. Nature is prolific. Each plant can produce an enormous number of seeds. The old saying "One year's seeding means seven years' weeding" holds. The results of this carelessness are cumulative: The more seeds you have, the more weeds you have. But the results of care also are cumulative: If weed plants are removed from the garden and placed in the compost heap before they go to, seed, their thousands of seeds won't be added to the garden. No seeds, no weeds. And, as the years progress, fewer and fewer seeds will be left in the garden to germinate.

Till twice before you sow. Before you plant a new garden, till the soil shallowly to encourage weed seeds to sprout, then water the area if the soil is dry. The combination of air, moisture and exposure to light will stimulate weed-seed germination. Wait a week after tilling and then hoe or till again to eradicate all the newly germinated weed seedlings before you plant. The more times you repeat this pre-plant weed-reduction technique, the fewer dormant weed seeds you will have lurking in your garden beds. Once the upper-layer weed seeds are exhausted (it takes a number of years, so be patient), very few new weeds will appear unless you bring them up from below or let weeds mature and drop new seeds.

Dispatch weeds while they are small. Tiny, newly germinated weeds are the easiest to kill. A sharp hoe drawn shallowly through the soil between the crop rows will quickly dispatch small weeds. Cultivating is the gentle stirring of the soil's surface to uproot newly germinated weeds before they become a problem. That minimum effort yields a maximum benefit, curing the weed problem, while making a tidy garden. And a well-kept garden may motivate you to spend more caretaking time there.

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