Sandy's Garden

Vegetable Garden Weeds

How to keep weeds at bay in your veggies

By: Sandy Feather ©2011
Penn State Extension

Q. I started a vegetable garden last year, but am frustrated by the never-ending battle with weeds. Do you have any suggestions to make 2011ís garden less of a chore?

A. A constant battle with weeds takes the fun out of any kind of garden. They are often more of a problem with annual gardens, such as a vegetable garden, where you constantly add organic matter and till it into the soil. Tilling brings weed seeds up to the soil surface where conditions are more conducive to their germinating and growing. Animal manures often add to the problem, particularly if they have not been composted before applying them to the garden.

Start with a Clean Garden

My first recommendation is to try to start with a clean slate. If frustration led to you leaving the garden a tangle of weeds for the winter, try to get out there on warm days to clean it out as much as possible. When the weather starts to warm in late winter and very early spring, weed seeds will start to germinate. Try to pull them as soon as you notice them.

Nothing like a ripe tomato fresh from your own garden!

Another recommendation is the change the way the garden is laid out. Rather than tilling up the whole plot in the spring, create a series of beds and walkways. Till up only the beds where you intend to plant and leave the walkways alone. If you do not disturb the soil in the walkways, you will not bring weed seeds up to the soil surface where they will germinate. You should mulch the walkways with wood chips, grass clippings or even old pieces of carpet because weeds will take hold in them. But you will mainly have to weed the beds, rather than the whole area.


Focus your Efforts

This layout also concentrates your soil building efforts in the areas where the vegetables are growing, instead of wasting your time, effort and organic matter in the walkways. You can plant your vegetables a little closer together in the beds than you normally would because the soil in them is not compacted by foot traffic. This permits the foliage of the vegetables to create a canopy over the beds that will help shade out many germinating weed seeds.

Vegetable Garden Mulching

You should also mulch the beds once your vegetable transplants are in and direct-seeded crops are growing. You can use newspaper (newsprint, even colored newsprint, but not the glossy ads; they may contain lead), composted grass clippings, shredded leaves or clean oat straw. Or you may choose to lay black plastic over the beds prior to planting and seal the edges with soil. Cut holes in the plastic where you want to place the vegetable plants. Both types of mulch help keep the weeds down and conserve soil moisture.


Once the vegetables are in and growing, try to hand pull any weeds while they are small and before they go to seed. Although farmers use herbicides to control weeds in their fields, few herbicides are labeled for use in the home vegetable garden because so many different plants are grown in close proximity to one another.

Should herbicides be used?

There are some products that prevent weed seeds from germinating, known as pre-emergent herbicides. Corn gluten meal and trifluralin are the primary ones available to home gardeners. Corn gluten meal is sold under various trade names such as Preen Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer, Espoma Lawn & Garden Corn Gluten and Without Weeds (WOW). It is not as effective as synthetic pre-emergent herbicides, but it is labeled for organic production.

Trifluralin is sold under a number of trade names and is a common active ingredient in crabgrass preventers. While not all formulations of trifluralin are labeled for use in home vegetable gardens, Preen Garden Weed Preventer is labeled for that use. Be sure to read and follow the directions carefully and remember that more is never better when it comes to using pesticides.


Vegetable plant families

Zucchini blossom end rot

Composting for the garden



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