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Weeds and Your Garden

Prepare Garden Beds Carefully

Prepare your garden or landscape beds in ways that prevent weed growth.

New beds

If you’re creating a new bed on top of established turf, try a method that is easy but requires patience. Lay down two or more thicknesses of heavy cardboard or 10–20 thicknesses of newspaper. The paper will block most weeds from emerging through the bed; those that do will be weakened by the effort. (Alternatively, you can yank up the turf, shake out and reserve the soil, and compost the grass.)

Now pile organic matter onto the paper. Put the coarsest on the bottom. For the top few inches, use compost mixed with topsoil. In weedy areas, the deeper the bed, the better! You can plant into this bed, or better yet, sow a cover crop and use the bed next year.

mugwort chickweed
Mugwort - a perennial with foliage that resembles a chrysanthemum. Rhizomes can spread by tillage and topsoil disturbance. A major problem in nurseries. Chickweed - a winter annual that thrives in cool weather. It is often introduced to the landscape in container-grown ornamentals.

Established beds

If you’re preparing an established bed for planting, decide if more than 30 percent of the garden is covered with weeds. If so, your best bet might be to remove perennials and prepare the bed like a new one. If weeds are scattered, dig out the toughest root systems by loosening and removing the entire root. Pull by hand the medium-sized weeds that will cooperate. Then till.

Tilling: a mixed blessing

Tilling the soil—either mechanically or by hand—destroys some weeds, but also allows some weed seeds to germinate. The timing and depth of tillage determines how many weed seeds are exposed to light, air, and water. Many gardeners recommend only light tillage (2 inches deep), to bring fewer weed seeds to the surface.

Two weeks before planting an established bed, loosen the top 3 inches of soil to be planted. A day (or less) before you plant, till the top 3 inches again to prevent weeds from getting ahead of new plantings. Mulch after planting to further reduce potential weed problems.

When working around existing perennials or shrubs, the rules are the same: don’t loosen any soil areas you aren’t planting; keep the soil layers intact where possible; and, if the soil is worked, rake shallowly to disturb emerging weed seedlings.

Fall renovation

In the fall, till or loosen the top 7 inches of beds with a shovel. Incorporate soil amendments, such as compost. Two weeks later, rake the surface to defeat any weed seedlings.

quackgrass Quackgrass - a perennial grass that reproduces by seed or underground rhizomes. Can establish in dense mats and is often introduced to the garden by rototillers or soil movement.