Get a Jump On WeedsPreparing your vegetable garden in the Spring is a great time to tackle weeds since you are already cultivating and loosening the soil. It is much easier to remove weeds, including the roots, with the soil loosened. Take extra time to remove weeds when the season begins. Try to begin eliminating weeds as soon as you can in late winter/early spring, before the weeds really start to become active. Be sure to remove the weed roots and not just the green portion above ground, or it will surely grow right back. By getting a good start on fighting weeds in the vegetable garden, you can drastically reduce time and frustration in the future.
Mulch, Mulch, MulchUsing a thick layer of mulch in your vegetable garden can be huge for suppressing weeds. Of course, mulch can help in many other ways such as conserving soil moisture, and warming/cooling soil temperatures. You can use an organic mulch such as hay straw, bark mulches, grass clippings, leaves, or compost. You can also use an inorganic mulch such as weed fabric, or plastic mulches. The organic mulches work best with a two to four inch layer for suppressing weeds. A thicker layer can be used in walkways and paths, but be careful about layering it too thick around plants, especially seedlings. You may want to push the mulch an inch or two from around the base of young plants. Mulch is a great defense against weeds, and is a must in my vegetable garden.
Use Raised Beds or ContainersGrowing vegetables in raised beds, or containers is a great way to duck many weed issues. Since raised beds are typically filled with a "new" soil mixture, weeds are not native to the beds. Raised beds also make it much easier to spot weeds and pluck them when they are just sprouting before they have a chance to settle in and take over. Plants are also spaced much closer together in most raised beds which can help crowd out weeds.
Reduce Plant SpacingAs mentioned above, planting your vegetables a little closer together can help with preventing weeds. Using intensive planting methods can not only increase the amount of vegetables you produce, but it also helps to keep weeds out. The idea is if something is already growing in a spot then a weed can't grow there. When creating your garden plan figure out how you can decrease plant spacings for many of your vegetables. Some vegetables like radishes, lettuces, onions, spinach, arugula, and others can be grown successfully a little closer together than the seed pack recommendations. Just don't go crazy with the plant spacing as it is still important to give plants enough room to grow.
Avoid HerbicidesWhen weeds start getting out of hand, try to avoid using that stuff that starts with a "R". Herbicides can be very deadly for your vegetable garden, and also contaminate garden soil. It might be a bit more work preventing weeds hands-on, but it will be much better for your vegetable garden in the long term. In fact, I would say that it is better to have some weeds than to use a chemical herbicide.
Giving Weeds a One - Two PunchIt may take more than one of these strategies for preventing weeds in the vegetable garden, or it may take all of them. With a bit of planning and defense you can keep weeds from overtaking your vegetable garden. Even having some weeds is not a complete cause for alarm because many weeds help to attract beneficial insects. So, even if a few weeds are giving you trouble, it might be worth it to leave a few of them around.
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