Weeds in the vegetable garden can really be a pain in the you know what. And the last place many gardeners want to spray a toxic weed killer is the vegetable garden. Good thing is, there are many ways to go about preventing and controlling weeds without the use of toxic chemicals, which can be harmful to people, pets, beneficial insects and other wildlife. Preventative measures should always be first, as these can greatly reduce and even eliminate hand-pulling later on.

Weeds can kill a gardener's enthusiasm, and cause many to abandon the garden in midsummer. Therefore, it is important to prevent weeds or control them while they are small and before they get out of control.

Since any plant growing out of place can be considered a weed, a sweet corn plant (from an accidentally dropped seed) growing in a row of bush snap beans is technically a weed; but the most common garden weeds are crabgrass, yellow and purple nutsedge, morningglories, bermudagrass, coffee weed, and pigweed.



Weed Prevention

As mentioned, the best way to control weeds in the control is to start with prevention.

Try these weed-prevention tips:

  • Before planting vegetables in the garden, you can roll out landscape fabric down the rows where the vegetable plants will be planted. The fabric should be porous and will need to be held down with "sod staples" or pins around the borders. This technique works especially well when planting on "raised" or "mounded' rows. Cut "X's" in the fabric in order to plant your plants.

  • After planting your vegetables in the garden, lay a few layers of newspaper on top of the soil and then lay mulch on top of that. I use a 2 to 3 inche layer of wheat straw for mulch. When wet down, this usually hold the newspaper in pace. If you don't want to use the newspaper, just apply the straw...or make your own organic compost and use it for a mulch. Not only will the mulch suppress weed growth, it will help retain moisture therefore reducing the amount of watering you would otherwise have to do.
  • After your garden has been planted and mulched properly, disturb the soil as little as possible. Weed seeds can lie dormant in the soil for many years. Cultivating the soil by raking, tilling, or turning it over uncovers these dormant seeds and within days you’ll have weeds appearing. Once on the surface, they receive the water and sunlight they need to make them grow. In following years after the intial building of a new vegetable garden, use no-till growing methods, if possible.
  • Destroy weeds before they flower and go to seed. Step on them, stomp 'em, sit on them...whatever you have to do to kill them. If you allow weeds to grow too large, they'll go to seed - then your problem becomes much worse.
  • If you are not using mulch, limit the areas of bare soil which invite weeds. Plant vegetables closer together - without overcrowding - to cover open spaces where weeds can take hold.
  • Use crop rotation in the vegetable garden. Some crops provide natural weed control.
  • Plant a cover crop in beds in the vegetable garden that are fallow. Cover crops such as buckwheat or winter rye prevent weed growth - both are allelopathic - they contain natural growth inhibitors which release toxins that suppress the growth of certain weeds.
  • Water each plant in the garden individually, or soaker hoses, drip irrigation, watering cans, and container watering systems that only water plants you want to grow, not bare earth between garden rows.
  • Use a stirrup hoe - so named because it looks like the stirrup on a horse's saddle - to dig up weeds while they are young. Use a back-and-forth motion, which requires minimal effort. A hoe cuts weeds just below the soil's surface and doesn't disturb the soil enough to bring dormant weed seeds to the surface. Hoe's work better when the soil is dry.

  • Hand pull any large weeds that you might have let get out of control - oh, that's right...you were on vacation for 3 weeks!:) Hold the weed by the base of it's stem, and make sure to pull out the whole root. The big weeds come out easier after a rain.
  • Weed often enough to get rid of weeds when they're small. It's a lot less work in the long run, and keeps weeds from taking over.
  • Discard pulled weeds. Left lying around, they can take root again, especially in wet weather.
Sounds like a lot of work, huh? Not really. Most of the tips provided here are only necessary when you don't use mulch, or break a few other simple rules. 



Organic Weed Control Agents


If you must spray, there are some new, citrus-based natural weed killers, such as Avenger Organic Weed Killer, that are totally safe for use in the garden. Citrus-based weed killers are highly effective when sprayed on young, tender weeds popping up in your vegetable garden. Not only do they kill weeds safely, they do the job in less than an hour. These products can also be useful in landscape beds.

Corn gluten is another safe product listed for use in vegetable gardens. Corn gluten is a weed preventer. It works by killing weed seeds before they sprout. Note, if you plant your vegetable garden from seeds rather than plants, corn gluten may kill vegetable seeds as well.