Guide written by:
Crystal, Owner of a small gardening business, Oxford
There are plenty of ways to weed your garden from hands to hoes and weeders to flamers weeders. Often referred to as the gardener's enemy, a handful of weeds around the vegetable plot isn't the end of the world. Nonetheless, you can follow our top tips on when and how to weed your garden – without using any chemicals!
- Weeding tools
- Manual weeding
- Flame weeders
The advantages and disadvantages of weeds
It may surprise you to hear that weeds may offer as many benefits as they do drawbacks.
The 5 main disadvantages of weeds
- Weeding can put your seeds in jeopardy by essentially smothering them; this is especially harmful to slow-growing plants or weaker perennials;
- Weeds use up water and nutrients from fertilisers which are essential for vegetable growth;
- Weeds provide an ideal shelter for slugs and other pests;
- Weeds can deprive ornamental plants of light;
- In rare cases, weeds can carry diseases and transmit them to your crops.
The 5 main advantages of weeds
- They protect the soil from extreme weather (rain, wind, UV rays);
- Weeds decompose where they grow and create humus, which may mean you can use less manure;
- They penetrate the soiling providing much needed ventilation;
- Weeds are often home to a variety of useful insects;
- Weeds are ideal for use in compost and as ground cover.
All things considered, these plants aren't really the enemy of gardeners and crops. In truth, weeds might not affect the productivity of your garden as much as you may think; they are generally removed from the garden for purely aesthetic reasons. In fact, various types of thistles and grassy weeds are often found in even well-tended gardens.
How to limit weed growth
Weeding is the most radical way to get rid of any unwanted plants. It is often a slow and tedious job. With this in mind, it's a good idea to limit the growth of these plants in the first place or prevent them from developing too much. Here are six common ways to keep on top of the weeds in your garden:
- Cut back your weeds using a scythe, sickle or a pair of shears. Depending on how large your weeds are, you can weed by hand or using a weed fork, weeder, hoe or mattock. Remember to leave any healthy weeds where they are once uprooted or mix them into the compost pile to make the most of their decomposition;
- Plant smother crops: these crops take up more soil and space and help to limit weed growth (potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, etc.).
- Mulching the ground around the crop helps to limit weed growth and provide nutrients to the plants as it decomposes.
- A false seed bed is a weed control technique that is ideal for slow-growingand spot-sown crops. Two weeks before sowing, prepare the soil as if you were about to start sowing your seeds, then wait for the next rain. The weeds will be tricked into coming out, then you simply have to remove them with a rake;
- Use a flame weeder. Popularised by Canadian farmer and author of the best seller The Market Gardener, Jean-Martin Fortier, this tool uses propane gas to produce heat. It kills weeds by creating a thermal shock that destroys the plant's cells and immediately kills it.
Choosing the right time to weed
Let's be clear: there is no way to get rid of weeds permanently and even chemicals have their limits. To make matters more complicated, studies have shown that weeds tend to grow more in a well-maintained gardens than in wilder, more natural settings.
Choosing the right time to approach this daunting task is really the only sustainable solution to consistently rid yourself of weeds.
This means cutting or weeding the offending plants at just the right time to weaken their development and encourage them to wither away. Weeds must not be allowed enough time to build up their reserves for the winter. The three main weed varieties should be tackled at appropriate times.
Here is a quick guide to help you out:
- Brambles should be cut just before spring begins, over several years;
- Thistles and nettles need to be cut down around July or August so they can't disperse their seeds;
- Couchgrass, horsetail and other perennials should be weeded around July and August, preferably in dry weather. Be sure to remove any roots and rhizomes.
For more advice on tending your garden, check out the following guides:
Guide written by:
Crystal, Owner of a small gardening business, Oxford, 33 guides
From a background in waste transportation, I became a farmer specializing in organic market gardening. A graduate of a professional baccalaureate in Agronomy and Horticultural Production, I tried for several years as a young farmer to settle in the beautiful region of Oxford. After many disappointments, I finally started a small-business in home services, specifically in gardening, assisted by my loving, dear husband. Passionate about nature and wild edible plants, I am very attentive to ecological solutions and respectful of our environment in all aspects of my daily life. From the vegetable garden to the flower beds, from seed to harvest, I have all kinds of advice up my sleeve. Do not hesitate to ask me your questions.