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Controlling Weeds Organically

Category Organic
Hand picking weeds
There are many effective ways to control weeds without the use of herbicides. With just a little extra elbow grease you can safely destroy those weeds. This is a guide about controlling weeds organically.
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By 0 found this helpful
February 22, 2007

A garden filled with weeds will yield about half as much as a weed-free garden of the same size. In fact, one of the most common causes of a failed garden is letting weeds get the jump on your plants. Organic gardening doesn't attempt to eradicate weeds, just control (manage) them. Here are some guidelines to make sure you retain the upper hand.

Understand Your Opponent

Like plants, weeds come in annual, biennial, and perennial varieties. To control them effectively, you need to be able to identify them visually and understand their life cycles.

Annual weeds (e.g. pigweed, lamb's quarters, and ragweed) are best pulled out or cut off at the surface before they flower and set seed. They won't re-sprout, so let their roots decompose in the soil.

Biennial weeds (e.g. common burdock, mullein, Queen Ann's lace) can be effectively controlled by cutting off their flower stalks or by digging them out in their entirety.

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Perennial Weeds (e.g. bindweed, Canada thistle, dock, quack grass) are the toughest to control once established. They can reproduce by roots, bulbs, runners, or seed. Pre-sprout them by digging out as many as possible and letting the soil rest a week or two until new sprouts appear. Dig those out and then plant. Don't try to kill weeds by tilling them under or chopping them into tiny bits-you'll only find them sprouting all over!

Prevention is the Best Medicine

You can't stop wind from blowing weed seeds into your garden or birds from dropping them from overhead. Nevertheless, you can employ a number of tools to keep them to a minimum.

Solarize Your Soil

Prepare your soil for planting, water it well and cover it with dark plastic. After four weeks, the sun's heat (as hot as 160ºF) will have killed any weed seeds and harmful microorganisms residing in the top few inches of the soil. Let the soil dry before planting and avoid disturbing it to prevent deeper lying seeds from reaching the top.

Avoid Imports

Weeds can be imported to your garden from the soil of plants received as gifts, a rotten veggie tossed off to the side or as part of compost or fertilizer (especially horse manure). Before adding compost, mulch or new soil to your garden, pot some to test it for weed sprouts.

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Plant Through Plastic

This is great for smaller gardens. Prepare soil for planting, water it thoroughly and cover it with dark plastic. Make small slits in the plastic to plant your seeds. The plastic will keep weeds from sprouting, though it may be more difficult to add compost or soil amendments later if necessary.

Space Plants Appropriately

Spacing plants correctly allows crops to naturally shade the soil and prevents weeds from sprouting. The leaf tips of mature plants will just touch each other if spaced appropriately.

Mulch Like a Maniac

Once your plants are a few inches tall, weed thoroughly then mulch. Weed control is just one of the many benefits of mulching; it holds in moisture, adds nutrients to the soil, improves soil structure, prevents soil-borne diseases, encourages worms, prevents run-off, and keeps flowers and veggies clean!

Get Down and Dirty

Pulling weeds by hand is still one of the most effective methods of weed control. Try to remove weeds before they set seed. Moist soil makes them easier to remove. If the tops are seedy or you're unsure of the weeds lifecycle (annual, perennial, etc.) don't compost them, bury them away from your garden.

Control Weeds with Water

Underground and drip irrigation systems deliver water only to the plants you're trying to cultivate. This minimizes the amount of moisture water-competing weeds have access to.

Plant Cover Crops

Planting cover crops (grains, clovers, or legumes) over the winter will protect your soil from erosion, enrich it with nutrients and inhibit weed growth all at the same time. Cover crops planted during the growing season act as mulch around fruit trees, shrubs, and perennial vegetables. Consult with your local extension agent or garden supply store to find out what types of cover crops work best for your climate and soil.

A Word About Organic Herbicides

Soap and vinegar based herbicides are available commercially, but read the labels carefully because many are not safe for food gardens. These herbicides are usually non-selective and can damage both crops and weeds if used incorrectly.

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Questions

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June 29, 20110 found this helpful

Is using a tarp the best way to suppress weeds? I have black tarp to lay down on my garden to suppress weeds. My mom said to just cut holes where my plants are. Is this the best way? The weeds are small and very difficult to remove.

By KW

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June 30, 20110 found this helpful

This will be an effective barrier for weeds but you may not like the appearance. I recommend the hula hoe. It is small enough to maneuver around plants and makes quick work of weeding.

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June 30, 20110 found this helpful

I use empty dog, cat, chicken bags like that, that are large, then put bark on top of that. Have also used paper bags from the grocery store.

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July 1, 20110 found this helpful

Black plastic is usually used. It comes on rolls you can purchase at any garden shop . I am not sure if Walmart carries it in their garden shop. Wood chips or rocks are used on top to hold it down. But if you buy wood chips then a good 2 inch depth will keep the weeds from growing thru anyway and you won't need the plastic. I keep all my flower beds that way and seldom have a weed in it. The other advantage is the wood chips break down over time adding nutrients and soil to your garden. I buy wood chips every other year just to refresh the garden and keep it looking clean and fresh.

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July 9, 20110 found this helpful

Have you heard of lasagna gardening? I read an article about it, a woman discovered that newspapers, and cardboard were the best way to keep weeds down as well as make a great environment for beneficial earthworms and keep the roots of the plants moist. She left a pile of newspapers for recycling at her curb and went on vacation, they did not get picked up and it rained. All foliage under the pile had deteriorated and turned to beneficial organic matter. Earthworms were active, also adding to the organic matter. No weeds would ever get through the pile of paper, as well as the paper adding more organic matter to the soil. We just moved to an older home with a neglected yard. I make a "cardboard run" the night before recycling day, collecting cardboard, and newspapers from the neighborhood. I use the cardboard to build new landscape beds, laying it flat, making sure there are no spaces for light between pieces. Newspaper in layers (only black ink) is best for vegetable gardens. Cover the cardboard with a thick wood chip mulch, and the newspaper with shredded leaves or straw. My beds have no weeds, and are becoming more fertile each year as I add more mulch.

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By 0 found this helpful
August 25, 2014

I have thistle spreading all over my garden, is there a safe organic home-made recipe to get rid of this?

By Lois S. from OH

Answer Was this helpful? Yes
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