Weed (noun): a wild plant that grows where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.
Garden (noun): a piece of ground, often near a house, used for growing flowers, fruit, or vegetables.
Gardener (noun): a sometimes-frustrated individual often seen pulling, digging, spraying, and saying unkind words about weeds.
Yes, weeds are a constant source of aggravation, whether you are an ornamental or edible gardener. Weeds are also more than just a nuisance. They compete with your desirable plants for nutrients, water, and light. Weeds will grow faster than cultivated plants, and they are fast reproducers. Weeds can also be indicators of soil problems such as nutrient deficiencies, pH levels, and compaction. This does not mean we should throw our hands up in the air and just accept weeds as a given. Sure, weeds will be present, but they do not have to dominate our garden this year. Here are some ways to reduce the pressure of weeds in the edible garden.
Remove weeds when they are immature and not at the flowering or seed-producing stage, before they begin to rob the soil of nutrients and moisture. For small gardens and the typical raised bed, hand pulling will be sufficient. Hand removal of weeds is easier when the soil is wet. Larger garden plots will require a hoe or manual rotary cultivator to remove weeds. Some gardeners prefer to use powered cultivators or rotary tillers if the row spacing between plants is sufficient. Cultivating is best done when the soil is moist, not wet. Be careful not to get too close to plants with rotary equipment, which can damage stems and roots.
Mulches are a way to reduce the number of weeds that emerge from the soil. Plants, whether wanted or unwanted need light. Adding a two- to three-inch layer of shredded bark mulch to the soil between rows of plants will reduce the weed seed near the surface from germinating. Adding a six- to eight-inch layer of straw mulch is also an excellent way to reduce light to weed seeds. Both mulch types provide other benefits to the soil by keeping the moisture even and adding organic matter as the mulch breaks down.
Certain herbicides can be used in edible gardens, provided you follow the label and only for crops that are listed on the label. Drift from herbicides is a concern, so only spray on days without any breeze, and use barriers such as plastic or cardboard next to plants to prevent herbicide injury. If you have any questions about the weed or herbicide, do not hesitate to call the Cooperative
Extension office at (804) 751-4401.
Edible gardening takes effort. You work the soil, buy the seeds and plants, set them in the soil and keep it watered. Don’t let weeds spoil the work. It’s your garden; own it!
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