By Bonnie L. Grant
Controlling weeds in a vegetable garden is important to the health of your plants. Weeds are huge competitors for resources and can crown out seedlings. Their tenacious nature and ability to seed fast makes it quite a chore to stop weeds in a vegetable garden. Herbicides are an obvious solution, but you need to be careful what you use around edibles. Manual control is effective but is a labor intensive method to keep weeds out of a vegetable garden. A combination of approaches and good initial site preparation are key to vegetable weed control.
Controlling Weeds in a Vegetable Garden
Weeds not only compete for water, nutrients and growing space but provide a haven and hiding place for disease and pests. Vegetable weed control early in the season can help prevent these issues and slow the spread of the nuisance plants.
Cultural controls are safe and effective methods of weed control. These may include synthetic or organic mulches, weeding or hoeing and cover crops. Cover crops fill in the proposed vegetable garden to prevent weeds from getting a hold and also add nutrients to the soil when they are tilled in spring.
We are often asked, “What is the best way to weed my vegetable garden?” Depending on the size of your vegetable bed, it is often best to hoe in weeds as long as they haven’t gone to seed. Hand weed the ones that have seed heads or you will just be planting them when you hoe. Weeds are like any other vegetation and will compost into the soil adding nutrients. Hoeing is easy on the knees and less time consuming than hand weeding an entire bed. Keep weeds out of a vegetable garden by hoeing weekly before the plants have time to get big and cause a problem.
Another option is to lay a plastic or thick layer of organic mulch between the rows of vegetables. This will prevent weed seed from taking hold. Another option is a pre-emergent spray to keep weeds out of a vegetable garden, such as Trifluralin. It will not control existing weeds but can be used before planting to prevent new ones from emerging.
A spray of glyphosate one week before planting will also stop weeds in a vegetable garden. Most herbicides that are listed for use around edibles require one day to two weeks before it is safe to harvest. Consult the label carefully.
Considerations in Weed Control
It is also wise to check the label of an herbicide to see if it is safe to use around a particular vegetable. For instance, Trifluran cannot be used around cucumbers, garlic, lettuce, onions, squashes or melons. Removing weeds from the vegetable garden also requires care in chemical application.
Drift is a problem that occurs during wind days when the chemical floats over to non-target plants. If you are using black plastic and use an herbicide, you must take care to rinse it completely before planting through the plastic. All instructions and cautions should be followed on any chemical application.