It sounds like Kat had a typical round of frantic but useless pulling. I suggest she let those roots re-sprout, and when they’re tall enough, soak the soil thoroughly and pull gently at their base. (Be sure to compost those pulled roots with lots of soil still attached; they’re full of nutrients, and they’re the perfect ‘green material’ to mix with shredded fall leaves. And the attached soil contains lots of microbial life to get that compost cooking!)
(Yes, the words ‘easily amused’ do come to mind; saves me a fortune on my cable bill.)
Q. I’m looking for advice on how to get an area of my garden back under control without using chemicals . I failed to keep up with the weeding in a section of my vegetable garden that is about fifteen by 30 feet. It had crabgrass, clover and a few other weeds that went to seed. I ripped them all out as best I could, but can’t get all the roots out—and I can see that a lot of seed has scattered on the surface of the soil. I wonder if covering the area with impermeable black plastic until next May would kill everything? Or maybe it makes things worse by keeping the area warm enough for the weeds to survive the winter?
(I’ve always been emotionally satisfied by my flame weeders. [Mom said it was OK to be easy; just not cheap.])
Wishful thinking. Weeds need no help surviving winter; and only clear plastic stretched tight over a perfectly prepared area for an entire summer can kill weed seeds. It’s called ‘soil solarization’, and this description of the proper technique is not my opinion; it’s the only way that diligent researchers got it to work. (Here’s the details in a very popular previous Q of the Week .)
Some gardeners need to break up heavy clay soils or add in a type of amendment (always amend based on a soil test) to improve their soil health. Often they will turn to running a tiller over the future garden bed and then raking the bed smooth. Some may even water the bare soil to encourage weed growth. After watering, they will cover the bed with a silage tarp or some type of black plastic that impedes light and water from reaching the soil. They newly disturbed and watered weed seeds will germinate, only to be met with an impermeable black membrane. The weed seedlings will starve from lack of photosynthesis and die. This creates a “stale seedbed”. After three to four weeks the tarp is removed. Any straggler weed seedlings can be hit with shallow cultivation, flame weeder, or pulled by hand. Because of the time it takes for the tarp to remain on the soil, this takes some forethought and planning to make sure your tomatoes aren’t delayed in planting until July. Also, once the tarp is removed this technique relies on limiting soil disturbance afterward. Light cultivation with a long-handled hoe or hand-weeding minimizes soil disturbance. The last thing you want to do is till again before planting your crops.
Weeds are everywhere. If we could add one more thing to life’s certainties I would argue “weeds” should be added to the list. Our soil is full of seeds, lying in a dormant state waiting for the right conditions to germinate. Each time we disturb our soils through tilling, planting, raking, even pulling existing weeds, we provide the opportunity for new weed seeds to sprout in those locations. So if you are just starting a garden, or are a green thumb backyard grower – what can you do to help manage the weeds that will undoubtedly pop up in your tomatoes and salad greens? Let’s examine some methods for weed management that could be used in your garden.
Weed management strategies: garden preparation
The act of cultivating is a fairly low-energy task. It uses the same muscles as if you were sweeping the floor. For most home gardeners, the best cultivating tool is the long-handled hoe. The names of these vary depending on the type of head they have. Some with a rectangular metal head with a sharp blade are called collinear hoes. Others have a stiff wirehead and are called wire hoes. An internet search will yield many more types of cultivators to choose from. Most of us were raised using a digging hoe. This tool is often used in the imagery of gardening. However, this type of hoe requires bending over and is more suited to moving soil, not cultivating it.