Weeds, weeds, weeds. Anyone with a garden hates dealing with them. They choke out other plants and make your garden look untidy. Is there a best time to weed your garden when it is less work and more effective? Read on for the answer.
For someone with a garden, you likely have problems with weeds sprouting up everywhere. Besides having insect and mammal pests eat your plants, weeds yet one more thing that you don’t want to have in your garden. At least not in large quantities.
Weeding can be time-consuming. Some weeds have deep roots, others spread widely with shallower but just as stubborn roots. Weeding whenever you get to it isn’t always effective.
Before we look at what is the best time to weed your garden, let’s first look at the problem weeds present and some of the weeds that you definitely want to get rid of.
What is a weed?
The interesting aspect of this is that a weed is not a weed to everyone.
In some places a plant that is classified as a weed elsewhere is seen as a beneficial plant and is even cultivated. There are medicinal properties in many weeds. Some weeds have beautiful flowers so are seen as ornamental rather than something to get rid of.
So a weed is really only a weed if it is a plant that is not desired in your landscape. The other criteria many people use is a plant that is very invasive, that spreads rapidly and will take over your garden and choke out other plants. More on that below.
Why do gardeners hate weeds?
Ask almost any gardener and one of the biggest challenges they will tell you they face is weeds. Weeds in flower beds, weeds in vegetable beds, weeds in containers and weeds spreading so quickly that you face a never-ending battle of trying to catchup.
Weeds compete for nutrients. You will usually find that in a weed-infested bed, what you planted on purpose (be it flowers or food crops) will not do as well as in a bed devoid of weeds. There is only so much water and food available and weeds generally take more than other plants.
So that is the most important reason to get rid of weeds.
But weeds also crowd out other plants. Plants want to have space to grow. Just think how you feel if you enter a crowded bus, elevator or train. Not great, right? Well plants are the same. They are not going to grow to their fullest size and produce the nicest flowers, fruit or vegetable if they have weeds elbowing them out of the way.
Weeds also can shade other plants. Let’s say you just transplanted some vegetable plants out or direct seeded some seeds into the garden. If there are weeds or if weeds grow up and shade those transplants or newly sprouted seeds, you will notice an impact. It may not completely kill the plants but they will be stunted in growth.
Finally weeds can be dangerous. There are many weeds which are highly poisonous, either through ingestion or contact. And other weeds such as thistles can leave a nasty prick to anyone that touches them. You definitely want to be aware of what weeds in your area are classified as poisonous and eradicate them right away if you find them. In some cases you may have to get an expert in to remove them if they get too big.
Anything you hate of course knows that and does everything it can to make your life miserable. Weeds are smart!
Why do weeds come back so quickly?
Weeds are very persistent. They have various mechanisms to ensure the survival of the species. Here are some ways weeds guarantee that and why as a gardener you need to be aware of these mechanisms so that you can more effectively keep the weeds in check. And no, you will never be able to eliminate all weeds permanently.
Weeds are great seed producers. This is understandable because like any other living thing, weeds want to pro-create. Seeds are one easy way for a weed to ensure it’s existence and ability to spread far and wide.
We’ve all seen a dandelion that flowers and then produces a seed head. That seed head eventually releases its white parachute-like seeds in a light breeze and you’ll see the seeds floating around. Have a neighbour that doesn’t get rid of dandelions and lets them go to seed? Your yard will likely become infested as well.
Forget-me-nots are pretty blue or pink flowers. However let them go to seed and you’ll have tons of new plants everywhere. Maybe not something people see as a weed but it is very invasive and will take over your garden if you let it!
The trick here is to catch the weeds before they set seed. Even just cutting off a dandelion flower before it can set seed is a great interim fix until you can dig out the whole plant.
And one of the worst things to do is to deeply till the soil. Any weed seeds that were buried and have been dormant may come up to the surface of the soil and start sprouting now that they have access to sunlight and warmth from the sun and water from irrigation.
The other really bad thing is to add weeds that have gone to seed to your compost. Unless your compost’s temperature gets very hot (145F or 65C), weed seeds will survive and guess what happens when you use the compost? Yes, weed seeds will start sprouting everywhere. I have made that mistake and have firsthand experience with this.
Weeds know that relying on seeds isn’t the most sure way of re-producing. The seed head may never fully develop (thanks to a proactive gardener lopping it off!), the seeds may end up on a hardscape and never sprout or the seeds might sprout but then be dealt with by the proactive gardener who has read this post.
So another way weeds can procreate is via their roots. Bindweed or perennial morning glory is one of the most well-known weeds that spreads underground. You may only have one plant but within a few years you will have bindweed sprouting up everywhere!
One of the biggest mistakes is to till the soil where bindweed has established itself. Guess what happens then? The bindweed roots get cutup into thousands of tiny pieces and most of those pieces will grow into a new plant! You’ve just increased your problem 100x or 1000x.
You are better off keeping the sprouts trimmed just below the surface of the soil so that the plant doesn’t get any sunlight. Photosynthesis can’t happen and all plants need that to thrive.
Best time to weed your garden
Alright, so you have these weeds, you want to get rid of them, but you don’t want to spend all day in the garden.
Is there a time when weeding is easiest? A time when you don’t have to struggle so much and curse less?
Yes, weed when everything is wet after a rain or irrigation. You will find that weeds will pull out much better in damp or wet soil.
The worst time to weed is when your soil is dried out. This is especially important with clay soil. When clay soil dries out, it is like concrete. Good luck pulling out weeds from concrete! What will usually happen is that you get just the top part of the weed and the root stays in the ground, ready to resprout again into another weed plant.
When the soil is wet, shallow-rooted weeds literally pull out without any resistance. For deep-rooted weeds you will find you won’t have to loosen them up as much and you usually can get the whole root rather than just the top part of it. For bindweed, you will be able to go a bit deeper beneath the soil and lop off the root so that the plant doesn’t get any sunlight.
What tools to use?
I’ve luckily already covered that in another post. Check out 7 Common Gardening Tasks: Tools That Will Save Time
Weeding when the soil is wet is much easier, but there are a few things to keep in mind before you get too carried away eliminating all those weeds.
- With damp or wet soil, stepping on it can easily ruin the structure of the soil and compact it, making further moisture harder to drain.
- Make sure you have paths that go through your larger flower beds and between your vegetable beds.
- Use long-handled tools that can reach into the middle of beds. Most annual weeds can just be cut off at the soil level and that will curb their growth. Other weeds can be cultivated out with a hoe or cultivator.
- Use a wooden board to spread the load if you do need to step into the garden
- Use a hoe or cultivator to loosen the soil again if you do have to step into the garden (with or without a board)
Surfaces after a rain can be slick so watch your footing. Especially if there are wet leaves. I know from experience and a few falls! Keep fallen leaves off paths, wear footwear with a non-slip sole and just be extra careful where you step.
So next time it rains, celebrate! Not only is the rain good for your plants you want to grow but it also will make weeding much easier. You may get a bit dirty, but you will finally get a handle on those pesky weeds that seem to sprout up everywhere.