KC Gardens

How to keep weeds from taking over your garden

Weeds flourish in summer’s harsh conditions.
Weeds flourish in summer’s harsh conditions.

It’s summertime in the garden. That means our plants are feeling the effects of the heat and drier conditions. Except the weeds, which seem to be soaking in the summer weather and are growing, well, like weeds. As they say, if you give a weed an inch, it will take a yard.

Nipping weeds in the bud is the best defense. That is, prevent them from germinating and establishing. You can use organic or chemical controls, depending on your preference.

Use mulch to prevent weeds organically. Mulches shade the soil, blocking sunlight required for seed germination. Mulches can be shredded leaves, grass clippings or wood chips. To be effective, the layer should be 3 inches thick and applied prior to weed germination.

Chemical options include several products designed to halt the establishment of weed seeds once they germinate. Most of us are familiar with crabgrass controls for the lawn. There are several products that can be used in vegetable and flower gardens to help keep them weed-free.

Unfortunately, there is not a good organic weed control product. Your options are limited to mulching, chemicals or elbow grease, i.e., hoeing.

Once the weeds are growing you have a few organic and chemical options for removing them. Organic weed removal is a fancy term for hand-weeding or hoeing. Growing weeds will take some effort to remove; the smaller the weed, the easier it is to remove. Both hand-weeding and hoeing are effective.

Hand-weeding is best accomplished by a trowel or a tool with a sharp edge. I like to get down on my hands and knees with a sharp butcher knife and slice through the crust of the soil, removing small weeds as they germinate. I find this method best for smaller areas or when working around perennials or young seedlings.

The good old-fashioned hoe is effective for larger areas. The key to proper hoeing is to make sure it is sharp so it will slice through the soil with less effort. A chopping motion is not needed. The ideal way to weed is to skim just under the soil surface, cutting the roots. This action creates a thin layer of dust separating from the soil, which results in a dust mulch layer that delays secondary growth.

Established weeds in a garden can be targeted with herbicides but, unfortunately, if they are not properly applied, they can damage desirable plants. Non-selective herbicides must contact only undesirable plants, which can be tedious work. Organic herbicides for established weeds are not effective and can damage desirable plants.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.