One of the most common questions I’m asked is how do I deal with weeds? My answer is simple: we do our best to prevent them and when we don’t prevent them we use a hoe. When using a real garden hoe (like our grandparents used) it is effortless to prevent weeds and to create a garden that is an easy keeper.
We prevent weeds by covering our soil. In this photo the pathways are mulched with leaves, the beds covered in the biodegradable mulch film Biotelo. (The white fabric is row cover used for conditions protection, yellow bags are weights to hold it down.)
- When planting transplants either plant them into a mulched bed or mulch immediately following planting. Immediate means same day. This prevents weed seeds from getting a start by getting the sun and water they need to sprout. If you wait a week to mulch—weed seeds will have the head start they need to push through mulch. Mulch note: we use the biodegradable mulch film Biotelo in our gardens when planting transplants. It blocks light from weed seeds, warms the soil and retains moisture. It is turned into the soil at the end of the season. It is a corn byproduct and even provides a bit of nitrogen when incorporated into the soil.
You can see a few weeds popping through the hole around these Dropmore plants. If the Biotelo film wasn’t there, the entire bed would be covered in weeds. Biotelo can be topped off with mulch if using in a landscape.
- Planting seeds directly in the garden means you cannot mulch until the plants are 4-8” tall. To prevent weeds from sprouting until mulching, run a hoe weekly throughout the bed (see how-to videos below) except where the seeds are planted —even if you don’t see weeds yet! Once plants reach a 4-8” tall, mulch to bring an end to you hoeing days!
Bells of Ireland seeded directly in the garden and hoed weekly until tall enough to be mulched with straw.
- Never allow bare soil to sit with no cover. Depending on the purpose of the garden do one of three things: mulch, plant a short cycled cover crop or lay landscape cloth over the area to prevent weeds from sprouting.
The truth about hoeing
I see the looks that come over faces when I get to the weed prevention part of a talk and I mention hoeing—the memories of days gone by surface and frowns appear. That is, until I show them how the professionals do it on their farms and why it works. The why it works is that the annual weed seeds in the surface of your soil (millions) sprout when they are brought to the surface and get the light and moisture they need. By running a hoe blade through the top 1 inch or so of soil once weekly, you kill those developing weed seedlings. By only running a blade through the top of your soil verses going deep, you aren’t bring up a fresh crop of weed seeds to start developing in the coming days. After a few weeks of weekly hoeing, you have exhausted the surface soil of viable weed seeds. If you have a mulched area that needs weeding you can slip the blade under the mulch and run it through the soil. This gets the weeds and loosens the mulch.
- Using the stand –up Garden Hoe: Stand straight up, thumbs up on handle, holding the handle close to my body to prevent any stress on my back, the hoe blade is flat on the ground and I pull it through the top 1 inch of soil as easily as a warm-butter knife through a stick of butter.
Watch the video. Purchase or review a stand-up Garden Hoe.
- The Japanese Hand Hoe: I often remark that the girls on our flower farm carry a hand hoe around like it is a purse—it is full of uses. It like the stand-up Garden Hoe should be used with its blade flat on the ground. This hand tool is great for up close work in the garden like thinning seedlings, clearing away young weed seedlings that are amongst desired plant seedlings that have replanted themselves from years past and drawing a trough for planting seeds and more. Watch the video. Purchase or review a Japanese Hand Hoe.
I hope this helps you slay the weeds of your garden and better yet—prevent them from ever being born!
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.shoptgw.com .
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