Your garden was looking so promising! THEN... you had to be gone—that family wedding, a couple weeks at the lake, whatever it was. Bottom line—the weeds exploded while you had your back turned. 😱 Now what? Don’t despair! All is not lost!!
First step: Let’s assess the situation. Knowledge is power. What weeds are they? (Here’s a great guide—compliments of NDSU Extension Service: https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/smallgrains/field-to-fork/weed-id-guide ) Are they annual weeds or perennial weeds? (Annual weeds are less concerning than those perennial weeds. And perennial weeds that spread through rhizomes underground are the most concerning.) Where are they growing? Are any weeds flowering and ready to go to seed? These answers will help guide your next steps.
Second step: Find any weeds that ARE flowering and going to seed. Deadhead the flowers and cut any seed heads into a pail. If seed production is dispersed throughout the plant instead of concentrated in a seed head, remove the entire plant, place into a pail, and remove from your garden. (Purslane is one weed we always pail and remove--root and all—it has an uncanny ability to re-establish itself and its flowers/seeds are dispersed throughout the plant.)
Common Purslane before flowering-- succulent growth; reroots easily!
NOTE: You do NOT want to let any weeds go to seed in your garden. This is a cardinal rule of successful gardening. "No weed goes to seed!" A single pigweed plant can produce more than 200,000 seeds! UFF!
Third step: Regain control of your alley ways between the rows. If it's a jungle out there and you're in triage mode, I recommend using a cut and smother technique between the rows. Are your rows far enough apart to allow for the use of a string trimmer? If so, mow 'em down to the ground between the rows. If you don't have enough room for a string trimmer, knock 'em down. You already removed the flowers, seed heads, and weeds that were going to seed. So you can just lay the rest of the weeds down between the rows as a mulch-- don't worry-- your gonna mulch OVER 'em and smother them.
Now we're gonna cover 'em up! Take a page from the 'lasagna' gardening technique and lay down a thick layer of cardboard over those cut and chopped or flattened weeds. Make sure the weeds are facing the center of the alleyway-- so no leaves are peaking out from under the cardboard-- getting the benefit of any light. Use a couple layers of cardboard and make sure the weeds are completely covered. Top the cardboard with some kind of a mulch between the rows-- straw, hay, leaves-- but make sure you're not bringing in weed seeds with your mulch.
This will effectively smother the weeds and give you a clean alleyway to then work on cleaning out the weeds between your garden plants in-row. You can choose to remove this ‘mulch’ system at the end of the season, if you like. But regaining control between the rows will be worth it for now!
Final step: Manual weed removal in-row-- hand-pulling or using a hand-held hoe are the best tools for in-row weeding. Start by focusing on the biggest weeds in your garden. Remove them first. Once you’ve removed the biggest weeds, now look for the weediest spots and the smallest garden plants and rescue those areas first.
Pull one or two weeds at a time when working in-row. Remember, if you try to remove a bunch of weeds at a time, when you pull 'em up, the root clump may be much bigger than the stems you have bunched in your hand. You may end up compromising the roots of your garden plants or uprooting them along with the weeds! If the weeds are getting big, be patient and do a weed at a time. You can work quickly but carefully!
If you can't pull them without also pulling out your veggies or flowers, cut 'em down to the ground to give your garden plants the advantage of full sunlight and less competition. This is where it's helpful to know what the weed is and whether it has the ability to grow back.
If you need to extradite the roots for fear of 'em regrowing, you now have much better access to do that with as little disruption to your garden plants as possible. If the weed was big, one strategy is to use a tool like a dandelion weeder to remove the core of the root and direct the removal and disruption away from your garden plants.
Again, use the weeds you remove as a mulch. Don’t remove the fertility unless you think they may have produced seed already. If that’s the case, pail them and remove. If there’s no seed threat, tuck them in with the ‘lasagna’ mulch you laid down between the rows.
Follow-up: Regularly inspect your garden-- especially a few days after a warm rain. Watch for and identify the weeds that germinate and emerge-- this will help you understand which weeds are most concerning and important to control.
The BEST time to get 'em is when they’re emerging as tiny seedlings! You can bury them with loose soil (just make sure to cover them completely), rub 'em out, easily pick them by hand, or use a small hand-held hoe. The goal is get 'em with the least possible disturbance to the soil or your garden plants.
Don't disturb the soil any more than necessary—that’ll just bring more weed seeds into the growing zone. So only hoe when necessary and as shallow as possible. But be thorough and remove both the weed roots and above-ground growth-- to help minimize the chances of 'em comin' back and re-establishing themselves.
Here's to regaining the upper hand and allowing your garden plants to thrive! 🙌🏻
Our best to you,