Techniques for a Weed Free Garden

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PHOTO: PHOTODISC
Try these four tried-and-true techniques to stay weed free.

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.

The Perfect Weeding Hoe

For cultivating, an effective hoe is sharp; angled for
drawing, not chopping; slim, so as not to bulldoze soil
onto the vegetable plants; and accurate, so as to pass
between the crop rows without damage. It also must be
comfortable and fun to use, or you will find some other way
to spend your time. Years ago I could never find such a
hoe, so I made my own. Today you can buy this tool, which I
call the collineal (which means “in the same straight
line”) hoe. Various interpretations of this design are sold
by a number of garden tool catalogs (see “Special Offer,” page 45 in this issue). It is designed for skimming in soft, fertile soil
rather than for chopping compacted earth.

For my collineal hoe, I wanted an efficiently designed
tool, not a crude bludgeon. I also wanted a hoe I could
use standing upright, to minimize back strain. Since that
meant I would be holding it with my thumbs up the handle,
as with a broom or leaf rake, I had to find the ideal angle
between the blade and the handle for a shallow, skimming
action. Seventy degrees turned out to be ideal. I made the
blade as thin and narrow as possible so that it would cut
and skim without gouging and bulldozing. Because the blade
was narrow, the cutting edge could line up with the
centerline of the hoe handle, ensuring an accurate aim in
cutting weeds rather than crops. Finally, I sharpened the
blade like a razor, so the cutting edge would be right next
to the soil. A sharp hoe allows you to work shallowly and
not disturb the roots of the crop plants.

Using this collineal hoe with the proper angle and a thin,
sharp blade is like dancing with a skilled partner, and
just as enjoyable. Hold it in a ballroom-dancing position,
with your thumbs upward. Stand comfortably with your back
straight. The hoe blade draws effortlessly through the soil
of the growing areas. Hoe when weeds are very small, gently
cultivating the soil’s surface. Go out to the garden on a
summer’s evening, put a Strauss waltz on the stereo and
dance with your hoe. Weed control has never been so
civilized.

The Best Gardening Hoe for Paths

The only compaction in your garden should be in the paths.
For those areas, a stirrup hoe, with its thin double-edged
stirrup blade, will make your life easier. The stirrup is
hinged where it attaches to the handle so it swings back
and forth slightly, and the hinged action changes the angle
of the blade to the soil so that it cuts smoothly, whether
you are pushing or pulling. This hoe is held with the
thumbs pointing down the handle so that a lot of power can
be applied. It can cut effectively just below the soil’s
surface or go deeper if you wish. The cutting blade fits
nicely in the paths between the beds where your feet have
passed. We use this hoe while moving down the paths
backward, working the hinged action of the hoe back and
forth in the compacted soil. It neatly cuts off all weeds
and leaves a fresh, aerated surface.

If you use the collineal and stirrup hoes just a few
minutes each time you visit your garden, you’ll easily
solve gardening’s greatest challenge and keep your crops
weed-free and your garden a place you’ll enjoy.