At any given time I have at least one section of garden (vegetable, herb or flower) completely overtaken with weeds. Why? Because I have too many gardens and too much shit to do. But I never panic because I know how to get on top of it.
Years of being botanically overwhelmed have led to me a few special weeding techniques that make life easier. I’m all about sharing the wealth so today I’m passing that knowledge to you!
Disclaimer: I live smack dab in the center of New York state, in zone 5 where we get pretty regular rain. Keep that in mind when you read through my weeding tips. If you live in a dry climate this might not help as much but you should stick around anyway, especially if you enjoy some snarky garden chit-chat.
The Best Time to Weed Your Garden
Whenever you can. Got an extra 5 minutes while you’re waiting for the Instant Pot to release its pressure? Hop on out to the garden and get pulling.
I put my kids to bet around 7:30-8 every night and then I head out to the garden. You can get a lot done in an hour of dwindling light. Keep the bug spray handy or you’ll look like a cheetah and probably get West Nile.
The Easiest Time to Weed Your Garden
I’ve always found it easiest to weed my garden soon after it rains. The most efficient weeding gets rid of the whole plant root and all. And those roots are more likely to slip out of the ground if the soil isn’t hard as a rock.
My Great Aunt Artie told me to weed when it’s sunny. She was old school and had a tilled row garden (don’t worry, she’s still alive but not gardening that much these days). She would pull the weeds and toss them in the empty path where the sun would fry them.
I have raised beds due to terrible drainage and rocky backfill so I don’t have dirt paths to sacrifice my weeds on. But I still like to do my weeding on a sunny day.
When I’m wiping out colonies of small weeds with my cape cod weeder it only takes a little while to see what I missed. Usually by the time I get to the end of a bed the weeds I disrupted have wilted and you can clearly tell what still needs to be taken care of.
When you’ve got a lot of weeding to do it’s vital to start with the important stuff. And by that I don’t necessarily the big weeds. I actually find it easier to pull out some weeds when they’re bigger.
The first thing to remove is anything with a flower on it, or anything already going to seed. You absolutely don’t want to introduce more weeds into your garden!
Mustard is especially tough, I swear it pops up and goes to seed in a day and a half. If you’ve only got a few minutes to weed do your self a favor and get rid of everything with a flower on it.
If I’ve got an empty bed I just let the weeds grow. Freshly turned soil will look like a chia pet in no time while undisturbed soil is more likely to have a few larger weeds. Personally I’d rather pull a few big plantains out than 4×16 feet of nutsedge and smartweed.
Also, please wear gloves! I’ve been really good about it this year and that probably saved my left hand. For the first time in my life, I have poison ivy blisters.
Luckily they’re just on my wrist, if I wasn’t wearing gloves I’m sure my whole hand would be unusable. And then I’d be typing with my nose like a chicken. No one wants that.
Know Thy Enemy
When you’re weeding your garden it helps to know what kind of weeds you have, mostly the root system. You’ve probably got a handful of weeds that show up over and over right? Figuring out what they are and the best way to get rid of them will help you in the long run.
I have a ton of ironweed on my property. I don’t mind it so much because the bees love it. But I don’t want it in the asparagus bed or competing with my daylilies.
My favorite way to remove a large clump of ironweed is with my trusty cape cop weeder (I love that thing, probably
not getting it tattooed on my butt). Grab the whole clump as close to the roots as possible with one hand and give it a wiggle.
Stab the weeder head under the roots and pull straight up with one hand on the plant clump and one hand on the weeder handle.
If it doesn’t come out you might need to stab in a few places. Eventually the whole roost system will slide out of the ground. Again, this is much easier if the ground is loose after some rain.
Another common nemesis is dock. Dock grows from a taproot, like a carrot. It’s pretty ugly and it doesn’t really look like anything else. This is one of those weeds that I ignore until it’s flowering, unless it’s right up in somethings business that it.
It’s a fairly vertical plant so the leaves don’t do much shading and I’ve found it’s much more likely to come out root and all when it’s had some time to get sturdy.
Again, grab that trust cape cod weeder. Instead of going under the root ball you want to slice down parallel to the root. Loosening up the soil and severing some of the root hairs. I usually do it on two sides.
Grab the plant at the base with both hands and pull straight up. Wear gloves for a good grip. Sometimes you’ll need to give it a really sharp yank.
Eventually the time will come when you’re faced with a legion of small weeds, usually something like Lamb’s Quarters. That’s when you take a hoe (or your cape cod weeder, seriously just get one already) and slice them off just below the soil.
You’re leaving behind the roots in this case but it’s ok, they’ll just wither away and die. I usually leave the little dead plants where they fall, in a few days there won’t be anything left.
Plan for Weeds in Your Planting
Intensive planting is great. You can maximize yields and get the most out of a small place. But weeding it sucks.
Rows are easy to weed quickly because all the plants are in a row and easy to avoid. Close grid spacing is a little trickier. Having a small tool that you can use precisely makes it a little more manageable.
But when you get into the staggered triangles… forget it. I’d rather sacrifice some harvest than my sanity.
One huge thing you can do to prevent weeds is mulching. It’s easier to mulch large plants like tomatoes and peppers. I mulch baby zucchini plants but when they take off you don’t need to bother.
I like to use straw if I can find it but I’ve used lawn clippings in the past. It’s a bit of a gamble, you might be introducing billions of weed seeds but it’s free.
Other than blocking weeds mulch keeps soil moist by slowing evaporation. You know what that means? Yup, weeds are easier to remove!
We’ve come full circle on garden weeding but if you’re aching for more garden knowledge you should check out my other gardening posts like why your garden is going to fail (and how to avoid it), what to grow in your garden and my can’t-live-without garden tools.
Check out my Gardening Page for more ideas and don’t forget to PIN this post to your garden board!