Any undesirable plant in your garden can be labeled a weed. The vegetables or flowers you want to grow will be robbed of nutrients, moisture, light, and space if weeds are not managed. Weeds seem to always outpace the desired plants in growth. They can also harbor insects and diseases.
To be fair, it needs to be noted that some “weeds” in our gardens have a positive side in other circumstances, such as when not surrounding our tomato plant. Many weeds play a healing role in restoring worn-out soil or prevent erosion. Many also provide nectar and shelter for beneficial insects, and can be a food source for animals.
Common garden weeds in our area include annual bluegrass, crabgrass, henbit, creeping Charlie (also known as ground ivy), nutsedge, prickly lettuce, broadleaf plantain and, of course, the dandelion! The best way to know if a self-invited plant on your territory is a potential friend or foe is to get to know your weeds. We can’t eradicate the weeds but we can learn about the ways to manage them.
For weed control it really all comes down to well-timed physical measures. Preparing the ground properly for planting and doing modest clean up often results in a good-looking and productive result.
The simple rule to live by is to avoid procrastinating by waiting for weeds to mature and set seed. Whether annuals, perennials, or biennials, weeds are famous for their rapid seeding and spreading ability.
Hand pull in small enclosed garden spaces. Loosen the soil around the weed with a hand fork so you can remove it with its root. Be careful not to pull flowers or vegetables if weeds are too close to them. Practice close planting when possible to suppress weeds.
Hoeing is the most useful and easiest method to remove the plants you don’t want. Skim the soil surface, don’t dig in too deep to avoid hurting the roots of your plants, and avoid bringing up more seeds to the surface. Hoe on a warm, dry day so the weeds wilt and die quickly after hoeing.
Remove stems and leaves from the garden beds as they may root. Do not compost any weeds that
have set seeds!
Mulching is an effective deterrent to weed growth. When weeds do come up they are usually lanky and can be easily hand pulled. Hay, straw, wood chips, and compost are all natural mulches that work well to smother weeds, and are a good buffer to protect the soil from evaporation and erosion. For large flower areas or vegetable beds, landscape fabric or plastic roll-out weed barriers can be installed, with or without a covering of mulch.
Also, consider where the weeds are, and their amount. If they are in the lawn and there are only a few of them, hand weeding will be more efficient. If the weeds have overtaken an entire bed, hoeing or digging them out may be the best action to take.
Most garden spaces can be managed with physical and cultural controls. If you do chose to use an herbicide, make sure the product is right for your situation – both for the weed in question and the location. Follow the instructions for correct timing and application rates and wear the appropriate personal protective gear.
If you have further questions, you can contact the UConn Extension Master Gardeners at:
Article by Tatiana Ponder, 2020 UConn Extension Master Gardener Intern