How to Weed Efficiently Without Using Herbicides

May 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Tools and Equipment, Weeds

Weed control is one of the biggest concerns that gardeners have. It can be back breaking tedious work. Herbicides are typically used by farmers, landscapers, gardeners, and homeowners as a way to efficiently combat “weeds”. I used to be a landscaper and a gardener at war with weeds armed with my chemicals. I’ve tried just about every option for weed control you can imagine. I’ve used chemicals, mulch, garden hoes, hand weeding, rototilling, chickens, and chop & drop.


Truth be told, walking through your garden every week or so, and spot spraying with roundup is extremely easy and efficient. I used to do this, and it kept my “weeds” in check, but it was NOT the best way to handle weeds. I think it is very important to take a multi-functional and holistic approach to weed control.


First it is important to understand why common “weeds” appear where they do. For example, if you have compacted soil, you are likely to find deep tap rooted weeds such as dandelions appear. If you pull or spray these weeds, they will simply reappear, and they will keep reappearing until the soil is not compacted. Rototilled soil or soil that is too loose and powdery will tend to get weeds with very fibrous root systems. They are trying to bind the soil together. More importantly, any cleared soil will grow “weeds”. Nature will find a way to occupy the space, and she will NEVER give up. Nature is simply trying to repair the area, and re-establish a forest.


Second it is important to understand the lifecycle of common “weeds”. For example, is the weed in question an annual or a perennial? I have a lot of henbit and chickweed growing under fruit trees in my chicken pasture. These “weeds” are cool season annuals, meaning that they germinate in the late fall or winter, and grow vigorously in the early spring. They die out and go to seed in mid-spring. I'm not concerned about these weeds competing with my perennial and self-seeding summer annual plants under my fruit trees. I am actually very happy that I have these “weeds”. They provide excellent fodder for my chickens at a time when nothing much is growing, and they die out right when my desired plants are coming in. As a bonus they provide a winter groundcover. Other summer annuals that I may not want because of competition, I can simply chop and drop them before they go to seed. Perennials are a different story. I try to remove any grass from my garden beds, roots and all. Grasses can be very invasive. Other perennials such as clover do so much good for my garden by fixing nitrogen and encouraging bees that I just let these helping “weeds” exist in my garden harmoniously. Other weeds such as purslane, lambsquarters, and oxalis make excellent salad greens.


So armed with some knowledge of the “common” weeds in my local area, I walk through my garden once a week during the growing season with my wheelbarrow, garden hoes, hand pruner, and weed what needs to be weeded, chop and drop where needed, collect some weeds in my wheelbarrow for the chickens, and simply allow certain helpful “weeds” to exist. This is the holistic approach that I take.

Lambsquarters and clover left to grow amongst my lettuce

Even though I am approaching weed control in a holistic way, it still requires quite a bit of actual work. I can usually go through about 10,000 square feet of garden space in about 3 or 4 hours a week during the growing season. I must say that this is possible because I mulch my garden. If you do not mulch your garden, weeding will be next to impossible without chemicals if you have a large garden. Besides the suppression of weeds, mulch is an excellent way to build healthy soils.


Besides mulch, another trick of weeding efficiently is to use the right equipment, and to make sure to have sharpened edges. I have five different tools for weeding, although I mostly just use two:


1. A pair of gloves with good grip is a must for hand weeding. I probably hand weed 20% of the time.


2. A stirrup hoe is a fantastic tool for weeding small to medium sized weeds without disturbing the soil too much. This is my favorite tool for weeding. I use this 75% of the time.


From left to right: Stirrup Hoe, Diamond Hoe, Garden Hoe, and Weed Popper

3. A diamond hoe is a great tool for making furrows when planting, but I don’t use it much for weeding. It is supposed to make it easier to weed close to your garden plants, but I think it disturbs the soil too much. Disturbed soil simply brings new weed seeds to the surface.


4. A traditional garden hoe if sharpened can clear areas pretty quickly, but like the diamond hoe, I think it disturbs the soil too much.  


5. A weed popper can be used to remove deep tap rooted weeds. I no longer use this tool as I bent the metal trying to remove a dandelion, then when I was bending the metal back, I snapped the wooden handle. It’s OK I never used it much anyway.

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