If you have a garden, you have weeds. There's no way to avoid them. So it pays to give some thought to the best way to remove those weeds from your lawn and garden and that depends on the type of weed - whether it is annual or perennial, or whether it spreads by rhizomes or just seeds - and how many of them there are. You can certainly hand pull your weeds, but sometimes it pays to have the help of some weeding tools.
There are 3 basic tools for controlling weeds:
- Your Hands
- Hoes and Hand Hoes
Hand Pulling: By far the easiest and most convenient weeder is your hand. It becomes second nature to yank a weed or two every time you walk outdoors. Often times the quickest way to weed is to get out your knee pad and start pulling. Hand pulling is also the best method for a densely planted garden bed that has been neglected.
Hoes: There are times when hand weeding is impractical. Pulling a large clump of tiny weeds or deep tap rooted weeds is a job for either a hoe or a hand hoe. Both tools do the same job; it’s just a question of whether you want to stand or get on your knees for the attack.
There are many types and styles of hoes and gardeners generally find the choice to be a personal one. There are multi-purpose hoes, like the angled Japanese hand hoes, which can be used for weeding, digging and cultivating, but they are impractical for large areas. For widely dispersed weeds, something like the scuffle hoe pictured here is a good choice, because of its push/pull action. However, there is no best tool for the job and I’d suggest you try out a few and see which style makes you feel you could weed forever.
- Draw Hoe - the familiar flat-bladed hoe works best when pulled. With a sharp blade, you can make quick work of the long rows between vegetable crops.
- Warren Hoe - has a pointed, heart-shaped blade that is usually used for creating furrows but also works well for small weeds and weeding between rows.
- Scuffle, Stirrup or Dutch Hoe - Cuts weeds at the surface in a push/pull motion. Easy to use and nice for covering a larger area.
Herbicides: Most herbicides are not selective enough to know what is a weed and what isn’t, so you can either spray the whole area and start over or carefully spray individual plants. Even when you are careful, there is usually some herbicide drifting onto nearby plants. To be really safe, you can use a small brush and paint the herbicide onto the leaves of the weeds you want to kill.
- Chemical - Sometimes the only option is to kill the existing vegetation. Products, like RoundUp and Weed-B-Gone, are systemic, meaning they pass through the plant's vascular system and get down into the roots, to kill the whole plant. Even then, some hardy weeds will take multiple applications to be thoroughly eradicated. There is a continuing debate over how much harm chemical weed killers do to the environment. Many studies seem to agree that you can feel safe using them in moderation and according to the package label, but don't be surprised if you start seeing them banned from use in certain areas. They certainly have their place, especially in areas plagued by poison ivy and persistent perennial weeds, but they are frequently abused, so use caution and discretion and always follow the label directions. More is not better.
- Less Toxic - The newer acetic acid-based herbicides work by burning the leaves of the plants. They tend to take more applications to fully kill the plants since they are not systemic and the roots may survive the first couple of burns. The acetic acid in commercial herbicides is a 20% solution, as opposed to the 5% acetic acid in household vinegar. However many gardeners have claimed to use household vinegar and have found it very effective. Household vinegar seems to work best on weeds near hardscaping, such as the cracks on a sidewalk. The heat of the cement aids the work of the vinegar.
More Info to Help You Conquer the Weeds in Your Garden
These are the 3 basic weeding tools available to you. Chances are good you will need some combination of approaches for tackling your garden weeds. For further reading, to help you better understand what type of weed you are dealing with and how to most effectively keep them from taking over your garden, to begin with:
- Tips for Limiting Weed Problems in the Garden
- Mulch - What Is Mulch and Which Mulch Should You Use Where?