When is the best time to weed your garden?
Weeding the garden, a time honored tradition or an exercise in futility? However you look at it, there is a time that is better suited to make the end result last a little longer. Whether you are weeding around your fruit trees or weeding between the plants and rows in your garden, timing can more often than not be your best defense against weeds.
Weeds are plants and believe it or not most of them are beneficial and in a lot of cases even medicinal to we humans. If you own livestock of any sort, weeds are a excellent source of high protein food for them. Pigweed (amaranth, yes the cereal grain) for example is a scourge to commercial farmers. It has a very high resistance to Glyphosate (Roundup). If you look out into a corn or cotton field and see a plant the doesn’t look like corn or cotton, that’s pigweed. Its leaves are somewhere between 22 and 26 percent protein. GMO, Roundup Ready field corn is running right around 7% these days. Your granpappys field corn “back in the day” was 14%ish with good soil and decent rains. Neither compares to a good ole green WEED. We get a ton of Cutleaf Evening Primrose here on the farm anywhere that has been tilled by me or the pigs.. Again, 20%+ protein for a WEED. Hogs and cows love both by the way. Chickens will eat the leaves off of pigweed as high as they can jump and will eat the seeds when they fall but our flocks couldnt care less about the Primrose except for the yellow flowers when the bloom. I could go on and on about weeds..We are pretty careful here on the farm to watch where we step. You may have just crushed somebody’s wholesome snack, but I don’t want any of them in my garden.
So, weeding. The best defence is a good offence. Cliche but applicable. For your spring garden, in the south, start preparing your plot of ground february 1st. You northerners have to wait for the ground to thaw, so think April or May. Now when you till, harrow or whatever you do to prepare your plot, you expose a whole lot of dormant seeds. WEED SEEDS. Even if there wasnt anything but grass there, you’re gonna have stuff sprouting there that hasnt been seen if 50 years. Now here is where your timing comes into play. Is it gonna rain today? Did it rain yesterday? Is it overcast, humid, or dry? It all really makes a difference. Grass and weeds are pretty resilient. If the ground is wet or fixing to be that way, chances are, 50% or more will just re-root and act like it never happened. You want a dry sunny day and get started in the morning. The sun beating down on a stressed plant with roots exposed to air for an extended period will kill it off. By the end of the day it is shriveled and crunchy. We call that “organic matter” and the decomposition that is taking place is adding vital nutrients to your garden plot. Now leave it alone for 7-10 days. I like 7 as it is the biblical number for completion. By then you will notice a nice green sheen from a distance and up close you will see hundreds of thousands of tiny little plants. WEEDS! If you had waited until planting day to till your garden and planted the same day, this is what it would look like and at this point you don’t really know what is a weed and what you planted. But you’re ahead of the game this time. Till it all again. If your garden plot is small enough just get in there with your Stirrup hoe and go to town. When weeding with a tool like a hoe there is believe it or not a proper technique. Walk backwards while you work the ground. This keeps your feet and your weight out of the area you just weeded. When you walk in the area you just finished weeding you are pressing those weeds right back into the soil and essentially re-planting them. There’s an Ah-Ha moment for you. So give it another 7 days and this time you will notice a whole lot less new growth. Work the ground once more and you should be good to plant. You’re still going to have to weed around your plants and in between the rows periodically throughout the season, there’s just no getting around that. The really hard work is done though.
If you have a wheel hoe / push plow, use the furrowing attachment to your advantage as well as one of the jobs it was designed for. Pushing it between the rows and throwing soil at the base of your plants in your garden smothers the weeds, blocking vital sunlight and killing them. Again, timing is key but this is how the old timers did it before the age of herbicides. Personally, knowing that my wife and I, our children and grandchildren can walk through our gardens or orchards and “graze” without worry makes the pain at the end of the day worth it.
Grow something folks, it’ll make you happy.