Struggling with a weed-filled garden? Frustrated when weeds stubbornly refuse to release their hold? Learn all about weeds including the best time to weed.
There is a lot more though to consider when dealing with weeds.
Continue reading for a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about weeds and more weed control tips.
And let’s manage those weeds instead of them managing us!
What is a weed?
The interesting aspect of this is that a weed is not a weed to everyone.
In some places a plant that is classified as a weed elsewhere is seen as a beneficial plant and is even cultivated. There are medicinal properties in many weeds. Some weeds have beautiful flowers so are seen as ornamental rather than something to get rid of.
And weed flowers can attract beneficial insects and even repel certain insect pests.
So a weed is really only a weed if it is a plant that is not desired in your landscape. The other criteria many people use is a plant that is very invasive, that spreads rapidly and will take over your garden and choke out other plants.
Why do gardeners hate weeds?
Ask any gardener and one of the biggest challenges most of them have is weeds.
Weeds in flower beds, weeds in vegetable beds, weeds in containers and weeds spreading so quickly that you face a never-ending battle of trying to catchup.
Weeds compete for nutrients. You’ll usually find that in a weed-infested bed, what you planted on purpose (be it flowers or food crops) will not do as well as in a bed devoid of weeds. There is only so much water and food available and weeds generally take more than other plants.
So that is the most important reason to get rid of weeds.
But weeds also crowd out other plants. Plants want to have space to grow. Just think how you feel if you enter a crowded bus, elevator or train. Not great, right? Well plants are the same. They are not going to grow to their fullest size and produce the nicest flowers, fruit or vegetable if they have weeds elbowing them out of the way.
Weeds also can shade other plants. Let’s say you just transplanted some vegetable plants out or direct seeded some seeds into the garden. If there are weeds or if weeds grow up and shade those transplants or newly sprouted seeds, you’ll notice an impact. It may not completely kill the plants but they will be stunted in growth.
Finally weeds can be dangerous. There are many weeds which are highly poisonous, either through ingestion or contact. You definitely want to be aware of what weeds in your area are classified as poisonous and eradicate them right away if you find them. In some cases you may have to get an expert in to remove them if they get too big.
And other weeds such as thistles can leave a nasty prick to anyone that touches them.
Anything you hate of course knows that and does everything it can to make your life miserable. Weeds are smart!
Why do weeds come back so quickly?
Weeds are very persistent. They have various mechanisms to ensure the survival of the species.
Here are some ways weeds guarantee that and why as a gardener you need to be aware of these mechanisms so that you can more effectively keep the weeds in check.
And no, you’ll never be able to eliminate all weeds permanently, but you can at least make a dent in their proliferation!
Weeds are great seed producers. This is understandable because like any other living thing, weeds want to pro-create. Seeds are one easy way for a weed to ensure it’s existence and ability to spread far and wide.
We’ve all seen a dandelion that flowers and then produces a seed head. That seed head eventually releases its white parachute-like seeds in a light breeze and you’ll see the seeds floating around.
Have a neighbour that doesn’t get rid of dandelions and lets them go to seed? Your yard will likely become infested as well!
Forget-me-nots are pretty blue or pink flowers. However let them go to seed and you’ll have tons of new plants everywhere. Maybe not something people see as a weed but it is very invasive and will take over your garden if you let it!
The trick here is to catch the weeds before they set seed. Even just cutting off a dandelion flower before it can set seed is a great interim fix until you can dig out the whole plant.
And one of the worst things to do is to deeply till the soil. Any weed seeds that were buried and have been dormant may come up to the surface of the soil and start sprouting now that they have access to sunlight and warmth from the sun and water from irrigation.
The other really bad thing is to add weeds that have gone to seed to your compost. Unless your compost’s temperature gets very hot (145F or 65C), weed seeds will survive and guess what happens when you use the compost?
Yes, weed seeds will start sprouting everywhere. I have made that mistake and have firsthand experience with this.
Weeds know that relying on seeds isn’t the most sure way of re-producing. The seed head may never fully develop (thanks to a proactive gardener lopping it off!), the seeds may end up on a hardscape and never sprout or the seeds might sprout but then be dealt with by the proactive gardener who has read this post.
So another way weeds can procreate is via their roots. Bindweed or perennial morning glory is one of the most well-known weeds that spreads underground. You may only have one plant but within a few years you’ll have bindweed sprouting up everywhere!
One of the biggest mistakes is to till the soil where bindweed has established itself. Guess what happens then? The bindweed roots get cut up into thousands of tiny pieces and most of those pieces will grow into a new plant! You’ve just increased your problem 100x or 1000x.
You are better off keeping the sprouts trimmed just below the surface of the soil so that the plant doesn’t get any sunlight. Photosynthesis can’t happen and all plants need that to thrive. Eventually you’ll exhaust them hopefully before they exhaust you from constantly pulling them!
Best time to weed your garden
Alright, so you have these weeds, you want to get rid of them, but you don’t want to spend all day in the garden.
Pulling weeds after a rain, after irrigation or in the early morning while dew is still on the ground is going to make your life so much easier. You’ll find that weeds will pull out much better in damp or wet soil.
The worst time to weed is when your soil is dried out. This is especially important with clay soil. When clay soil dries out, it is like concrete. Good luck pulling out weeds from concrete!
What will usually happen is that you get just the top part of the weed and the root stays in the ground, ready to resprout again into another weed plant.
When the soil is wet, shallow-rooted weeds literally pull out without any resistance. For deep-rooted weeds you’ll find you won’t have to loosen them up as much and you usually can get the whole root rather than just the top part of it. For bindweed, you’ll be able to go a bit deeper beneath the soil and lop off the root so that the plant doesn’t get any sunlight.
Other consideration to make weeding more manageable
The other crucial criteria for finding the right time is when you have time.
Weeding is usually an activity that is the last thing you want to do when other more enjoyable work beckons.
Having shorter weeding sessions helps. You get a burst of energy at the beginning and that tends to fade the longer your weeding session lasts. And then you might take shortcuts and not get the whole weed or miss out on some.
Don’t go back to a spot until you have made your rounds and weeded everything else. Otherwise the other areas are going to get worse.
Sometimes however you’ll want to weed the most visible areas or where you have just seeded or transplanted young seedlings. But it shouldn’t take too long if you keep up with it.
Find time to weed every week, even if it is just 15 minutes. Over time it will help. Having a regular day and time also helps to establish a routine.
Precautions when weeding in damp soil
Weeding when the soil is wet is the best time to weed, but there are a few things to keep in mind before you get too carried away eliminating all those weeds.
With damp or wet soil, stepping on it can easily ruin the structure of the soil and compact it, making further moisture harder to drain.
- Make sure you have paths that go through your larger flower beds and between your vegetable beds.
- Use long-handled tools that can reach into the middle of beds. Most annual weeds can just be cut off at the soil level and that will curb their growth. Other weeds can be cultivated out with a hoe or cultivator.
- Use a wooden board to spread the load if you do need to step into the garden
- Use a hoe or cultivator to loosen the soil again if you do have to step into the garden (with or without a board)
Surfaces after a rain can be slick so watch your footing. Especially if there are wet leaves. I know from experience and a few falls! Keep fallen leaves off paths, wear footwear with a non-slip sole and just be extra careful where you step.
Safety considerations with prickly and poisonous weeds
The other precaution you need to take is with the prickly weeds. When removing thistles and other weeds that have sharp pointy thorns or prickly stems, definitely use a good pair of thick gloves.
If you can use tools to pull them then you have less contact with them other than perhaps putting them into a trug or other container to eventually dispose them.
You also need to take extra precautions when dealing with poisonous weeds. At a bare minimum, make sure to wear long sleeves, long pants and closed shoes. And again use good gloves.
Some invasive, extremely poisonous weeds may require professional help where a full exposure suit may need to be worn. Giant hogweed is a big problem here in our province of British Columbia and in other areas.
Best ways to remove weeds from a large area
So how do you clear a garden full of weeds? Tackle a small area at a time so as not to be overwhelmed.
Maybe you want to setup some raised vegetable beds or plant a flowerbed. Clear that area first, bring in some good soil and be sure to use mulch to keep weeds at bay.
Lasagna gardening is another option where you layer organic materials in a thick layer and plant on top of that. It also works if you don’t want to pull up the grass in your lawn to convert it to a flower or vegetable bed.
If you have a lot of weeds growing in a patio between pavers, you’ll want to invest in a flame weeder. Check out my Mini Dragon Propane Torch Product Review: Weed Control Without Chemicals for more info.
How to keep weeds out of the garden
As mentioned above weeds spread through seeds or roots. Here are some tips on what to watch out for so you don’t bring weeds into the garden in the first place or spread the weeds you already have further:
- plants: That pretty flower you thought would be perfect for the garden may well be an invasive “weed” that will take over if you let it.
- amendments: compost, mulch, soil, hay and other amendments can bring in weed seeds, so check the source of the material carefully. Cheap soil or compost is not a deal anymore if you have to battle tons of weeds.
- roto-tilling or double-digging: Any beds that have a weed problem will get worse. The trend nowadays is no-dig gardening and a great resource for this is Charles Dowding who has had amazing results just from layering compost on top of his beds once a year
- seedheads: cut off seedbeds the moment you see them. Some seedheads literally explode to disperse their seeds widely.
- roots: Avoid cutting any roots of perennial weeds into smaller bits as each one will spread even more.
What tools to use for weeding
So now you’re ready to start weeding. What tools do you need?
Unless you are dealing with poisonous or prickly weeds, sometimes plucking a weed out of the ground with your bare fingers works the best. Your kids can help you with this too, so long you show them what is a weed and what isn’t.
These will protect your hands when you have to deal with the more nasty weeds although you still have to be careful. They will also keep your hands clean since you are weeding in wet soil.
Or if it’s really wet and muddy, you can also have full coverage up to your elbows with these longer gloves:
A good hand trowel will help you uproot shallow-rooted weeds easily. This one also has a serrated edge for getting into more compact soil.
This is great for deep-rooted tap weeds such as dandelion. It lets you dig around the root and loosen the soil to the point that the weed should just slip out without losing half of it in the ground.
Sometimes you need the extra leverage of a long handled shovel for those stubborn weeds.
Hoe and rake
Useful to uproot shallow rooted weeds growing in a large area. You do need to be careful about not damaging your vegetable and flower plants.
You can use this to loosen the soil a bit so that weeding is easier, especially with deeper-rooted weeds.
As mentioned above this is the best way to eradicate weeds growing in cracks and crevices in patios and sidewalks. Read my full review with links to purchase one:
As you weed it is best to contain the weeds, especially if they already have seedheads in a sturdy container. I prefer using a trug.
You could also use a pail or box or another container you already have at home.
How to dispose of weeds
And now you have a pile of weeds or a trug or other container full of weeds! What do you do with them?
Check out how to dispose of most gardening waste including weeds in this article:
So next time it rains, celebrate! Not only is the rain good for your plants you want to grow but it also will make weeding much easier. You may get a bit dirty, but you’ll finally get a handle on those pesky weeds that seem to sprout up everywhere!
If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Wishing you all the best!
Tranquil Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC