How To Control Weeds In Your Vegetable Garden

Weeding is one of those chores that can get annoying, yet it is so important because weeds will take nutrients out of the soil that your vegetable plants will need. 

And while some gardeners find weeding a very satisfying task, others wish they could do without it. Whichever side you’re on, it is important to know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden to ensure your plants get the nutrients they need.

In this article, we will show you how to control weeds in your vegetable garden to keep your vegetable patches clear for the veggies you want to grow.

What are weeds?

A weed is basically any plant that you don’t want in a certain location. So in your vegetable patch, everything you have not planted yourself would be classed as a weed.

Because all sorts of weeds are likely to come up in your beds, it is important to know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden.

There isn’t necessarily a list of weeds, as it depends on the context, whether a plant is classed as weed or not. 

So if you are planting a wildflower meadow, then you will not consider, let’s say poppies as weeds. However, if you get poppies growing in your vegetable bed, overshadowing and outcompeting your carrots, you will think of them as weeds.

However, there are plants that are commonly classed as weeds and which are found in vegetable gardens in the UK:

  • stinging nettles
  • dandelions
  • dock leaves
  • horse tail
  • twitch grass
  • bindweed
  • daisy and many more

If you want to know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden, you need to know more about them. 

Because every plant can be put into one of three categories, it makes it easier to know how to deal with them.:

  • Annual weeds
  • Biennial weeds
  • Perennial weeds

Plants in each of these categories have a different life cycle, so when you want to get rid of them, it is good to know how best to do that.

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In order to know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden you have to identify them. PlantNet is an app which can help with that.

Annual Weeds

stinging nettle

Plants in this category live for one year, and they spread by seed. Once they have produced seeds, the plants will die and the new generation will grow from the weed seeds.

There are two types of annual weeds, winter and summer annual weeds. Summer weeds germinate in spring, then grow all through summer until they die in winter. On the other hand, winter weeds germinate in later summer or early autumn. Then they are dormant over winter and start growing in spring.

This type of garden weed needs to be removed before setting seed. 

Biennial Weeds

As the name suggests, biennial weeds have a life cycle of two years. 

In the first year, they germinate and establish themselves. Then in the second year, they grow flowers, fruits and seeds and then die.

Again, to eradicate these weeds, you have to remove them before they have set seed or produced fruit.

Perennial Weeds

In contrast to the first two types, perennial weeds will come back every year. And it’s rather difficult to get rid of these little monsters.

They tend to have long taproots that will go very deep and will be difficult to get out whole. 

And on top of that, they will also produce seeds, spreading around your garden. Unfortunately, these need to be dug out to get rid of them, ideally before they set seed.

If you want to know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden, you need to know how to deal with all these types of weeds.

How To Control Weeds In Your Vegetable Garden

Now that you know what type of weeds there are, let’s talk about how to control these weeds in your vegetable garden.

There are different methods you can use, which will work for different types of weeds and environments.

Garden Hoe

The garden hoe is a simple, but also very efficient tool to control weeds in your vegetable garden. Every gardener should own one, as it makes weeding a quick and easy job.

There are different types of hoes, but the Dutch hoe is the most common one.

Move your hoe lightly over your vegetable bed, skimming off the surface and taking the weeds with you.

Top Tip: Don’t go down too deep, otherwise you will bring up seeds that lie further down, given the opportunity to germinate.

But it is important to use the right tool for the right job and a garden hoe cannot be used in all circumstances, so here is when to use this super tool:

  • for young annual weeds
  • for vegetable patches and beds before you have planted anything
  • between rows of plants that have deep roots drilling down

Don’t use a garden hoe:

  • on large deep-rooted weeds, as you will only be able to snap off the tops, and the weeds will continue to grow strong
  • on hard, compact soil, because it will be much harder work, and your hoe will become blunt
  • in a bed or vegetable patch that has new seedlings, because sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish weeds from seedlings

Leave the weeds on the soil surface, where they will dry out and eventually rot and introduce nutrients into the soil.

Now that you know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden with a Dutch hoe, let’s move on to the next technique.

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Weeding By Hand

weeding by hand

While the Dutch hoe is a great tool, nothing beats your hands. 

Many plants, such as annual weeds, can easily be removed by hand. Just grip the stem close to the surface between your index finger and thumb, then pull gently. The whole plant, including the roots, should come out.

While this seems like a lot of work, it can be very rewarding, giving you a feeling of accomplishment. 

This method is especially good when you are weeding a vegetable bed with new seedlings. Because you can select which ones are weeds and which ones are seedlings of your vegetable plants.

Some bigger common weeds, with shallower roots, can also be removed with this method. If you are not sure if it will work on a particular plant, just pull at it gently.

If you can feel that the whole plant comes out easily, bingo! Pull it out and it’s gone.

If it is difficult to pull it, leave it. Because this means it has a long tap root and if you pull it out, all you do is snap the root, and it will grow back.

Top Tip: If you are weeding by hand, make sure you wear gloves, as some weeds can cause skin irritation.

These are mostly perennials and to control them, you have to get a fork out.

Weed Fork

Another tool that every gardener should have in their shed. If you want to know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden, especially the deeep-rooted perennials, then the answer is digging them out with a weed fork.

You can get these forks at your local garden centre or online.

Spear & Jackson - Elements Weed Fork, Blue
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Spear & Jackson - Elements Weed Fork, Blue
  • Spear & Jackson quality garden tool
  • Hammer finish epoxy coated head
  • Improved resistance to rust, scratches, humidity and alkalines in the soil

Perennials such as dandelions, thistle or dock are prime candidates for digging up with a weed fork.

 They both have long tap roots, which will regenerate when snapped off. So trying to pull them out is not a viable option.

Insert your fork next to the weed and lever the plant out. Be gentle to ensure the whole root comes out.

This does also work with a trowel, although you are more likely to snap off the root.

It is easier if the unwanted plants are still small, so get them out as soon as you see them.

Weed Puller

If you know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden with a fork, you will get a long way. 

However, if you have a big area, such as an allotment or a big garden, pulling out weeds with a fork can be quite a job. 

A weed puller is a very handy tool, and is much easier on your back than weeding by hand or with a fork.

Fiskars Xact Weed Puller, Length: 1 m, Stainless Steel Handle/Plastic Handle, Black/Orange, 1020126
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Fiskars Xact Weed Puller, Length: 1 m, Stainless Steel Handle/Plastic Handle, Black/Orange, 1020126
  • Weed puller for weed control with a diameter of max. 4 cm, For a sustainable and environmentally friendly weed control, Ideal for the extraction of dandelions, thistles, nettles and other root crops in loose soils, vegetable garden or garden
  • Traps the roots of the weeds between the claws of the weed puller (up to 10 cm underground), Extracts the plant along with its roots thanks to a patented mechanism of claws, With a little pressure on the handle the claws open and the weeds are released straight into a waiting wheelbarrow and off the lawn
  • Work in an upright position: No strain on the muscles and shoulders thanks to the long handle, Practical non-slip handle for a better hold

And it’s easy to use. You just push down the tool over the weed, press on the handle and the tool pulls out the weed with its root.

If you have a lot of weeds to pull out it’s worth investing in such a tool.

By the way, don’t throw away the weeds you pull out. Any leaves and roots can be used to make your homemade liquid fertiliser. But make sure you don’t add any weed seeds.

Weedkiller

I would not recommend using weedkillers in your vegetable garden, because they are effectively poisons, which you don’t want near plants that produce your food.

So when it comes to weeding vegetable plots, beds or patches, I would recommend the above-mentioned techniques.

However, most gardeners also have lawns or paving, and for these weedkillers can be an effective way to control weeds.

There are four types of weedkillers:

  • Systemic weedkillers – this type of weedkiller will destroy the whole plant, including the roots. But it can take weeks or months to work, as the poison has to make its way through the plant and into the root. Systemic weedkillers are good for deep-rooted plants such as thistle or dandelions.
  • Contact weedkiller – on the other hand, a contact weedkiller will only destroy the leaves and stems above the ground. Once the weedkiller hits the soil, it will be neutralised. Because it doesn’t kill the roots, it is best used on young annual weeds. 
  • Selective weedkiller – these weedkillers will only destroy certain weeds. So this type of weedkiller will work well for lawns, as it will only attack the weeds but not the grass. However, make sure that the weedkiller you want to use is safe to use with grass, you don’t want to destroy your lawn.
  • Broad Spectrum weedkiller – these weedkillers will destroy any plant, so should only be used in areas where every plant is an unwanted plant. Keep in mind that the wind can carry the herbicide particles to other plants and affect them too. So make sure you only spray weedkiller on a still day.

Now that you know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden once they have emerged, let’s look at how to suppress them.

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Suppressing Weeds

Weeding is a way to control common weeds in your vegetable garden that have already come up.

However, you can also suppress weeds to prevent them from germinating and coming through.

While you will always have to do some weeding in your vegetable garden, the following ways to suppress weeds can help to reduce the amount of weeds coming.

So if you want to know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden, you have to know how to suppress them too.

Mulch

organic mulch

One way to suppress weed growth is adding a layer of mulch around the soil surface of your veggies. 

Not only will the mulch suppress the weeds, but it will also lock in the moisture and, as it breaks down, will release nutrients into the soil to feed your vegetable plants.

Any mulch will do, but I would suggest organic mulches, such as leaf mulch, grass clippings or wood chips.

Once you have planted out your vegetables, just add the mulch and weeds have no chance.

Here is how to add organic mulch around plants:

  1. get rid of all weeds before applying mulch
  2. water the bed or patch thoroughly as you want moist soil
  3. add a layer of about 5cm of mulch around your plants

I love using mulch to suppress weeds, so if you want to know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden, you should be aware of this method.

Cover Crops

Another way to keep weed growth down is by planting cover crops. These are plants that will cover the surface of the soil so that weeds have no chance.

It’s important that you don’t just use any plants, as you want to make sure that your cover crops won’t affect your vegetables negatively. 

And the best thing is, there are edible plants that can be used as cover crops:

  • any leafy salads, such as lettuce, rocket or spinach – they have shallow roots so won’t compete with other plants
  • radishes and beetroots – they will grow quickly and will suppress weeds

While you can use these plants to cover the soil around your other vegetable plants, you can also grow cover crops over winter in your beds to prevent the emergence of weeds in spring.

Green manure is ideal for this, because at the start of spring you can then cut them down and leave them on the soil. As the plants decompose, they will release nutrients and prepare the soil for the veggies.

You can also dig in the plants instead. But you will have to keep in mind that it will take some time for them to decompose.

Leave two to four weeks after you have dug in your green manure before planting your veggies in the bed. Let’s move on to the next method of suppressing weeds in our guide about how to control weeds in your vegetable garden.

Black Plastic

black_plastic_cover

Another way to suppress the growth of weeds is by covering the soil with black plastic. 

Like mulch, it will prevent the weeds from getting any light and thereby suppressing their growth. While it works well as a weed barrier, it doesn’t have the other benefits of organic mulches.

For this method, you can also use landscape fabric, weed fabric, rubber mulch, etc.

What is important to note though, is that while it takes a long time, these materials will break down eventually, leaching plastic fabrics into the soil.

A lot of these materials, such as plastic sheeting, will not allow water, air and nutrients through in the garden soil. They can also heat up the soil and the planting area, which could harm the plants.

That’s why I would not recommend such inorganic mulches around plants.

However, they are very useful for covering your unused vegetable patches, beds or plots over winter. As such it’s good to be aware of this method if you want to know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden.

In autumn, when your fruit and vegetable plants have finished cropping, remove them, mix organic matter in to the bed and cover with a black plastic sheet or any other inorganic mulch. 

Then in spring, when you are ready to plant out your young plants, your beds are ready and weed free.

No Dig Garden

Another way to reduce weed growth is by having a no dig garden

When you dig your vegetable beds, you bring hidden weed seeds closer to the soil surface, giving them the suitable conditions to germinate. 

With a no dig garden, you will have fewer weeds, but you will still have to do some weeding, because airborne seeds of troublesome weeds will still reach your beds and germinate.

When To Weed?

In order to know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden, it’s important to know when to weed.

Unfortunately, weeding is not a once-a-year task, but is part and parcel of the gardening cycle.

Like other plants, most common garden weeds grow mostly in spring and summer, when the soil temperatures are suitable.

This means you will need to weed regularly, to keep on top of it.

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Spring Weeding

Most gardeners prepare their beds by doing a ‘spring weed’. This means they get rid of all the weeds that have come up in early spring.

This can be done with a hoe or for more persistent weeds with deeper roots, use a fork.

Autumn Weeding

After the growing season has finished, weed all your beds thoroughly.

You can then either cover with non-organic fabrics or an organic mulch, such as compost, grass clippings or leaf mulch. Even pine needles will work.

This will then suppress weeds to make it easier for you in spring.

Through The Growing Season

weeding with fork

While you can prepare your soil to prevent too many weeds from emerging in spring, you will still get weeds that have airborne seeds.

Weeding is something that should be done on a regular basis. The more often you do it, the less of a big job it will be.

I go out every 2-4 weeks to weed all my vegetable beds. When weeds are still very young they are much easier to pull out by the root.

And it does also give me a sense of achievement, seeing a weed free bed after I have finished.

Now that you know how to control weeds in your vegetable garden, you will be able to provide your vegetable plants with the environment they need. Happy Growing!

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