Why would we spend time talking about weeds? I think because it is the most pervasive problem in the garden, especially right now. We’ve had the perfect environment for their flourishing—great rains last year and a relatively warm February this year, with enough rain this year to germinate various weed seeds and awaken the wild onion and oxalis with their small bulbs.
Honestly I think the best way to deal with the weeds is to pull them out, especially after a rain when the soil is somewhat moist and the weeds are young. Then apply several inches of mulch which will eliminate the germination of many weed seeds by virtue of not letting sunlight reach new weed seeds.
My favorite tool for weeding is a Hori Hori knife. It is a gardener’s best friend! It’s very strong, with a blade about 7” long and almost 2” wide with a pointed end opposite the handle. It digs out every weed, with root intact. That’s not to say weeding, especially a large swath isn’t daunting, but if removed before the weeds go to seed, they won’t return. Our pesky sour grass, or Oxalis pes-caprae has, at it’s base, small bulbs that don’t necessarily come out when the weed is pulled. But if you continue to remove the plant, even if the bulb remains, you will starve the bulb over time and it will not come back.
A big mistake we made, in our son’s garden, was to put landscape fabric down before planting, in an effort to suppress the onslaught of the weeds we knew would appear. We covered the cloth with 2” of compost/mulch, but the weeds just kept coming, now tangled up in the landscape fabric. He is continually pulling up weeds, and cutting out the fabric as well as he can. What a mess! We just should have mulched about 3-4” (or sheet mulched) and the inevitable weeding would have been much easier.
Last fall, in order to bring our daughter’s ‘bare’ front garden and very sparse lawn into some semblance of ‘order’ and to keep down the inevitable spring weeds, we sheet mulched. As promised, it has kept down the weeds and the ground is now ready for planting low water use plants (instead of a new lawn).
What is sheet mulching? It’s the process of spreading 1/2”-1” compost and/or manure, then either wet overlapping cardboard, or several layers of overlapping wet newspapers (1/4” thick) on the ground, adding another 1/2”-1” compost and and finally spreading about 3+” mulch (usually fir bark). It’s important to add water after each layer so the paper decomposes and transforms the existing soil and surpasses the weeds. There are actually many recipes for sheet mulching found on the internet, this is just the one we used on our daughter’s home.
In visiting her and her garden this past weekend, I noticed there was some oxalis popping up through the mulch, and a couple of grasses, but they were very easy to pull up (without being tangled in landscape cloth).
So I think the bottom line is to physically weed, weed, weed using a tool that works well for you. If you are persistent and diligent, and mulch religiously, you can eliminate most of your weeds over time. And, bribing children or grandchildren, perhaps 5 cents a weed, would also be an option, if they can differentiate a weed from a treasured plant!