How To Control Weeds

Techniques for tackling your weeding woes

Pro Weed MatPathways: Keep walkways in the vegetable garden weed-free with roll-out Pro Weed Mat.EdgingBed edges: The garden always looks better with a crisp edge. Use roll-out edging in coco fiber — to maintain a nice edge all season.Hula HoeIn the beds: The long-handled Hula Hoe makes it easy to eliminate random weeds that spring up.

Weeding is not all bad. There's actually something wonderfully therapeutic about it. Very little brain energy is required, and I find that with my hands busy, I'm free to daydream, ponder the big questions, or just check out for awhile. For me this is true whether I'm weeding around vegetable plants, weeding the cutting garden, or weeding in the perennial garden.

The pathways in my cutting garden and shade garden are more permanent, and I've had pretty good luck controlling weeds with the Pro Weed Mat, which can be walked upon.

My apple trees, lilac hedge, dwarf conifer garden, and foundation plantings are also covered with Weed Mat and a 2-3″ layer of wood chips. Some areas have been pretty weed-free for five or six years now. The only troublesome weeds (other than dandelions, which I have seen sprout in concrete) are those ground ivies that creep over the top of the mulch from the surrounding lawn. They usually pull off pretty easily because they penetrate the wood chips but not the fabric. I find that wood chips (I get a truckload from a local tree-trimming company) last much longer than the shredded bark mulch. They look a bit coarse, but for the outlying areas, they're fine — and the price is right. An interesting new solution is the recycled rubber Tree Rings. They're air and water-permeable, an inch thick (so they'll stay put without staples or mulch) and they will last for many years.

As for dealing with the grass that creeps in from every edge of every garden, I can recommend two solutions. The first is an edging tool. This half-moon shaped tool has been used in British gardens for hundreds of years to cut clean edges around gardens, along pathways, around landscape plantings, and anywhere grass meets garden. Unless you have a very large garden, you can probably edge everything in a couple hours. The trick is to keep after it once a month or so. (That's a useful tip I must admit I don't follow—my beds usually get edged only in the spring.)

For a "put it in once and have it over with" solution, I enthusiastically recommend plastic edging. I've installed hundreds of feet of plastic edging, and it now surrounds my vegetable garden, cutting garden, perennial gardens, and shade garden. I have several areas where the edging has been in for 12 years, and it still works great. Unless you look very closely, you can't see the edging. I install it flush with the soil level, with only the rolled edge sticking up. I don't even own a weed trimmer—the mower blades go right over the edging for a neat, finished look. If your soil is not very stony and you don't get a lot of frost in the ground, you may want to try Pound-In Edging. It comes in several heights and is easy to install.

5 Ways to Control Weeds

Read Your Weeds

Just by growing where they do, weeds can tell us a lot about soil type and conditions, such as drainage, nutrient deficiency, and pH level. Understanding how a plant spreads (seeds? runners? rhizomes?) can help us know when and how to remove it.

Use The Right Tool

To oust the offending plant from your garden, you'll want to remove the entire weed, from shoots to roots. There are numerous garden tools out there that will get the job done — choose the one that fits your budget and body. Here are some of our favorites:

Do Not Disturb

Digging TOO deeply in the soil can expose previously buried, dormant seeds to light, causing them to suddenly germinate. For large areas populated with tons of tiny weed seedlings, try to just lightly scratch the soil surface with a cultivator or hoe instead.

More Mulch

Mulch has a whole host of benefits in the garden, one of them being weed control. For supremely stubborn areas of weed and grass, consider sheet mulching with a layer of cardboard first.

Suit Up!

If you're pulling a single dandelion out of a crack in the patio, you'll be just fine. But if you plan to wade into a weedy bed full of unknowns, protect your skin from thorns, poison ivy, and everything else unpleasant with long-sleeves and a good pair of gloves.

Alas, even with the best of preventative measures, weeds happen. When I do have to weed, here are a couple of my favorite weeding tools: my right hand, a hand fork and a hoe.

Last updated: 08/09/2023