How to Prevent Weeds

Weeding the Garden

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A better idea than pulling weeds is to keep them out of your garden in the first place. You can't stop every bird from dropping a weed seed here and there, but there are several things you can do to limit the number of weeds brought into your garden and prevent weeds from getting out of control.

Tips for Limiting Weeds in the Garden

  • Border patrol: Inspect all new plants for hitchhiking weeds. The longer a plant sits in a pot at the nursery, the more likely a weed seed will settle in and germinate. Make sure you don’t plant the weed along with the plant you’ve bought.
  • Don’t disturb: Keep cultivation to a minimum. There are always weed seeds in the soil, but many will not germinate unless they are exposed to sunlight. While some scratching and cultivating of the soil around plants are good to keep the soil from compacting, frequent cultivating just leads to more weeds. You are better off applying an organic mulch and letting the earthworms do the cultivating for you.
  • To till or not to till?: For years tilling has been recommended for clearing a new garden bed. Tilling is a quick way to break up the soil and incorporate some of the green material into the bed, but you’ll never get rid of all the existing plants that way. And just like with shallow cultivating, you are also turning up buried weed seeds that will sprout now, with exposure to the sun. If you do choose to cultivate, it’s easier to do when the ground is damp, but not too wet or the soil will stick together.
  • Cover up: Mulches are still one of the best ways to keep weeds from taking over your garden. Mulches, whether organic or synthetic, will smother weed seeds while cooling the soil and retaining moisture. Remember that mulches will also smother seeds of self-seeding plants that you might want as volunteers in your garden. If so, don’t mulch until later in the spring, when you can see which young seedling you want to keep and which should be weeded out and covered.