Weeds are the bane of every gardener. They seem to flourish with no care or support while the plants the gardeners want require attention almost daily. Weeds steal water, nutrients, sunlight and space from vegetable plants and jeopardize the viability of the garden. Gardeners must take defensive measures to stop and control weeds to enjoy a plentiful harvest of vegetables.
Cultivating or tilling the soil around vegetable plants in a garden is an effective, nontoxic method for weed and grass removal. A day or two after a soaking rain is the best time to hand-pull weeds. Wear waterproof garden gloves; you might also want a small stool to sit on. Reach your fingers into the soil and grab the main root ball of the weed before pulling. Twist as you pull to break the weed's ancillary roots.
The use of a hoe or manual cultivator with a long handle trumps hand-pulling if weeding in the standing position is more comfortable. The tines of a cultivator loosen and turn soil, but the unwanted plants often require hand-pulling anyway.
While weeds typically grow roots near the surface of soil, some vegetable plants do as well. The closer the weed is to the vegetable plant, the greater the risk of damaging the vegetable plant's roots with cultivating tools. When working close to vegetable plants, pull weeds by hand.
The Old Farmer's Almanac reports that a German study found that cultivating soil at night resulted in a 78 percent reduction in new weed germination. Weed seeds often need only a flash of light, which turning soil provides, to start growing.
Distributing a thick 3- to 4-inch layer of mulching materials around vegetable plants in your garden discourages the growth of weeds and unwanted grass. Mulch blocks the sun so new seeds cannot germinate. When spreading mulch, keep the material 2 to 3 inches away from the stems of the plants.
Keep in mind mulch modifies ground temperatures. Inorganic mulch materials such as plastic sheeting, old carpet or weed-blocking fabric can warm soil. Warm soil benefits seeds undergoing germination or newly transplanted seedlings.
However, when summer's heat arrives, organic mulch materials excel at cooling soil. Organic sources of mulch include mature compost, shredded wood, pecan shells, wood bark, grass clippings, straw, shredded leaves and newspaper.
Sawdust is a poor choice for mulch as the bacteria needed to break it down steals nitrogen from the soil and garden plants.
Weeds cannot stand up against a soaking spray of vinegar. Vinegar contains acetic acid that lowers the pH to an intolerable level. Mix 4 ounces lemon juice concentrate with 1 quart white or apple cider vinegar in mixing bowl. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Pour mixture into the spray bottle.
Spray vinegar mixture directly on the targeted weed. Coat the entire weed with the vinegar mixture. Wait to spray until the hottest part of the day. Take care to not let the spray drift over to garden plants. This vinegar mixture will kill the leaves and roots of young weeds. Established weeds with strong roots will likely require several applications. Spray established weeds daily until the roots die.