Vegetable Garden Weed Control

Thistle weed

A weed is any plant that grows in the garden that you do not want.

Weeds steal water and nutrients from vegetable crops reducing yield. Weeds compete with vegetables for sun and provide a refuge for pests and diseases.

The best strategy for weed control is to prevent weeds from germinating and eradicate those that do.

Best Ways to Control Weeds:

• Remove weeds and their roots as soon as they appear. Pull weed seedlings by hand or chop them off just below the soil surface with a hoe. Use a garden knife or a screwdriver to upend deep rooted weeds. Frequent weeding sessions will prevent weeds from becoming established.

• Smother weeds with a deep layer of mulch. This is most effective against weed seedlings. Use weed-free straw, about 8 inches, or use grass clippings, about 2 inches. Weeds that poke through mulch are easy to pull by hand. Newspaper and cardboard also make excellent mulch; lay down four or five layers of newsprint or a thick layer of cardboard. (Use newspaper or cardboard that does not contain colored print or a wax coating.) Black plastic can be used to deprive weeds of sunlight and smother them as well, but plastic is best used in the cool time of the year so as not to overheat the soil during the growing season.

• Never let weeds flower. If weeds begin to flower, pick off the flowers immediately and dispose of them. Don’t let weed flowers form seeds. Place weed flowers and seed heads in the trash, not in the compost pile.

• Spray weeds with vinegar. The high acid content of vinegar (try pickling vinegar) will slow weeds. Several applications of vinegar may be needed to totally eradicate some weeds.

• Scald weeds with boiling water. This is effective against perennial weeds but may require several applications. After you apply a stream of scalding water to a weed, immediately cover it with newspaper or black plastic to be sure no light reaches the weed. The roots of many perennial weeds can survive a round or two of hot water and even herbicides–be persistent in your efforts to kill perennial weeds.

• Improve the soil. Many weeds thrive where the soil is organically imbalanced—low in some minerals and an excess of others. Add aged compost to planting beds regularly to keep the soil fertile, an even balance of major and minor nutrients necessary for plant growth. Be sure that you add only weed-seed-free compost to your garden beds.

• Plant vegetables intensively—meaning space plants to that their leaves just touch at maturity. Intensive planting allows for more crop plants in a small space while the weeds below are deprived of sun and shaded out by the canopy of maturing vegetables.

• Once vegetable garden beds are established, avoid rototilling or turning the soil any more than necessary. Weed seed can sit dormant deep in the soil for years just waiting for exposure to light and moisture. Sheet composting—adding a layer of compost across the vegetable garden twice a year—is the best way to feed the garden and avoid turning up buried weed seed.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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