Before you become one of the many who will spend much too much time on getting rid of weeds, here are seven preventative strategies that’ll help minimize – and possibly totally eliminate – the effort.

Mulch

Mulch is a key tool in weed management.

Photo Credit: Sarah Ivy

Woman weeding

Keep on top of weeds as they develop in your garden.

Photo Credit: Oleg Kozlov

  • Know what a weed is. Weeds are pioneers. They’re nature’s way of covering disturbed and bare ground, annoying gardeners (and other plants) in the process.
  • Cover the ground. Don’t give weeds a place to get started. Mulch newly planted areas, vegetable gardens and annual flower beds. The best mulch for smothering weeds is a semi-composted organic material of medium-diameter particles (about ½ an inch) that’s applied 4-6 inches thick. Don’t skimp on mulch.

    Contrary to popular belief, geotextile fabrics (plastics and “landscape cloth”) don’t work well in the long run – and actually lead to more weeds!

    Plant groundcovers to “finish” the landscape and garden. Use low, dense, mat-forming groundcovers to truly cover the ground completely. Some of the most effective weed-suppressant groundcovers include Acacia redolens, Campanula poscharskyana, Cerastium tomentosum, Dymondia margaretae, Gazania rigens (gray-leafed trailing) and Thymus serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz’.

    Plant other plants (like low, dense, spreading shrubs and/or full-clumping perennials) densely enough to leave no room between them for weeds to sneak through.

    The idea is to cover the ground so thoroughly that no weed seed can find its way to the ground, and those that do make it to the ground can’t make their way up – and those very few that do make it up can’t compete well.
  • Don’t disturb the ground. Except for actually planting new plants or cultivating the ground for a new vegetable garden or flower bed, avoid breaking the surface of the soil. That includes avoiding pulling, digging and tilling to remove weeds!

    Yanking out even the tiniest weed makes two mistakes: First, it brings up weed seed that’s been accumulating at the deeper levels of your soil, where they’ve been too deep to germinate. Second, it creates a disturbed bit of ground that new weed seed blowing in can find suitable for setting anchor.

    An additional note: Weed-pulling disturbs the roots of your nearby desired plants.
  • Don’t introduce hitchhiking weed seed. You certainly wouldn’t do it intentionally, but weed seed does find its way into your garden via some not-so-surprising vehicles. When you buy a new nursery plant, for example, it’s a good idea to quarantine that plant for a few days to see what pops up in the container before sticking the contents into your garden.

    Bringing in so-called “topsoil,” too, is dangerous practice when it comes to introducing a weed farm to your landscape. Topsoil does have a technical definition, but as a commercial product, it’s sold without any universal standards of quality.

    And applying uncomposted manures is a weed disaster waiting to happen.
  • Mow your lawn high. If you need to reduce or prevent lawn weeds, set your mower blades to 3-4 inches high. A tall-growing lawn shades out weed seedlings and produces a healthier lawn overall that better competes with almost all weeds.
  • Avoid frequent lawn fertilizing. Lawns do best with a good organic fertilizer once or twice a year. More frequent fertilizing, especially with quick-acting fertilizers (and especially in summer) not only feeds your lawn, it feeds the weeds as well.
  • Water your lawn infrequently and deeply. Frequent shallow watering encourages weed seed germination. An aside: Frequent, shallow waterings also increase disease problems, as well as create a less drought- and heat-tolerant lawn.

The old adage “a pound of prevention…” certainly applies here. But more than anything else, preventing weeds from invading your yard is a good, indirect way to make your garden – and its plants – healthier.