If there's one thing that aggravates me the most about gardening, it's weeds. Just when you think you've got on top of them, they reappear. Learning how to prevent weeds so you don't have to deal with them in the first place goes a long way toward easing that irritation.
Weeds pop up in every available bare spot and, if left to grow, can reach massive proportions. On top of that, there are so many varieties to deal with that they require a range of techniques. Weeds are often ugly, they steal your plant's nutrition, and they spread disease. Rather than battling them constantly, it's best to learn how to prevent weeds instead.
It's important to remember that you will never eradicate weeds completely from your garden, so don't get frustrated if you still see weeds pop up now and then. Do the best you can to prevent the severity of the infestation, but have realistic expectations. With that said, using these techniques can absolutely help you get a leg up on the problem.
How to Prevent Weeds
Add mulch, then more mulch, and then a bit more. Mulching is one of the best ways to suppress weeds. Weed seeds are always under the soil's surface waiting to germinate. That's why when you have a bare surface or you dig and don't mulch, weeds pop up. A good layer of mulch prevents seeds from getting the sun and space they need to thrive.
Apart from retaining moisture and feeding your plants, mulching keeps the weed seeds from pushing through the surface. That's why a good thick layer of mulch is effective.
Don't Feed the Weeds
When I first started gardening, I fed and watered the entire garden, not just the plants. Now I use irrigation systems where water is drip-fed directly to my plants and vegetables. When I feed with liquid fertilizer, I use a watering can and only feed the base of plants, not the surrounding area.
If you don't create a welcoming environment for weeds, they'll be less likely to come.
Crowd With Good Plants
This is my most successful method of preventing weeds – and probably the easiest. The idea is if there's no space for the weeds to grow, they can't take hold.
In an ornamental garden, plant plenty of groundcover between taller plants. In vegetable gardens, plant so that the leaves of the plants will touch when they are mature in order to limit sunshine to any weeds looking to germinate.
Limit Digging and Tilling
Weed seeds are always below the surface waiting for the right condition to sprout, which are provided when you dig and till your soil, so try to disturb the soil in your garden as little as possible.
Dig specific holes for your plants, rather than tilling up the whole garden. If you plant seeds, poke holes sufficient for the size of the seed only.
Solarize Your Garden
I've used this method on smaller areas of my gardens and had pretty good success, but you do need some patience. This process is particularly helpful if you're going to start a new garden and you want to clear the area of weeds before you dig it in.
Lay a sheet of clear plastic over your weedy area. Over 4 to 6 weeks, the sun shining through burns the weeds. Of course, this method only works in warm, sunny weather, so forget it in winter.
Cover with Newspaper
This is such an easy and economical method for how to prevent weeds. It's perfect for smaller areas and spots you're preparing for ground cover. Simply lay multiple layers of newspaper or cardboard over the ground and around your existing plants.
Ensure you add plenty of layers, and as the newspaper rots, it will feed the soil.
This old fashioned method is ideal for weeds where you don't have other plants. In particular, it's perfect between stones and rock pathways. Boil a kettle of water and pour over the weeds.
Spray with Vinegar
This is another old fashioned method that has stood the test of time. My mom uses a spray bottle filled with apple cider vinegar that she carries with her when she potters in the garden. Spray a mix of 1 gallon of white vinegar and 1 tablespoon of salt on the leaves, stalk and surrounding soil of offending weeds.
Create a Physical Barrier
Often weeds creep in because there's no barrier between the garden and non-garden areas. Use garden edging, retaining walls or other barriers to keep weeds away.
A thick layer of wood chips (or rubber chips) is an effective way to suppress weeds. Just like a forest floor that is continually being covered by the canopy, wood chips provide a natural cover that stops weeds from growing.
Another benefit of using a thick layer of wood chips is that the soil is given natural nutrition as the wood slowly rots. Use untreated, non-colored wood chips in any garden where you're going to eat the plants.
I had some lovely plants in an area with a good amount of open space. I didn't want mulch or bark as it didn't fit the area. Because there was open ground, the weeds popped up. I used an old log, a wagon wheel and other items that covered the ground enough to keep most of the weeds away. Those that did appear stood out so much I could easily pull them as they appeared.
You can do something similar by adding decorative elements that will reduce the amount of ground space that weeds have to take hold in.
Get Rid of Weeds
Despite your best efforts to learn how to prevent weeds, a few of the sneaky pests got through. Wondering how to get rid of them?
Pull the Weeds
Sounds logical right? The trick is to pull the weeds at the right time. There are two things to be mindful of.
- Pull the weeds before they seed. Weeds are prolific spreaders and once they seed, they spread fast.
- Pull weeds when the ground is wet and soft. Many weeds have long, hard tap roots that snap off when the soil is hard and compact. Weeds are so prolific you only need to leave an inch of taproot in the ground and it will regrow.
Know Your Weeds
Identify the weeds that grow in your garden. There are some good, natural weed killers available, but many are weed specific so ensure you have correctly identified the exact weed.
Eat the Weeds
Remember, some weeds are edible and nutritious. Dandelions are my favorite, but there are many others. Don't use chemical sprays on the weeds if anyone in your family is going to eat them.
The Bottom Line
Weeds can be frustrating for gardeners and there are many natural and chemical ways to get rid of them once they appear. The most efficient way to win the battle is to prevent them before they appear.
You'll never eradicate weeds completely, so control them as best you can using the methods above – and enjoy your garden, even if you do have a few weeds.
If you have any ideas on how to prevent weeds in the garden, we'd love to hear from you so we can share your techniques.