Keeping weeds under control

June 3 – Kenosha News

WeedingQuestion: I’m a relatively new vegetable gardener. Last summer the weeds were so bad I thought about giving up. Do you have any suggestions on how to keep down the weeds in my garden? B.F.

Answer: I’ve talked to many new and experienced gardeners who are ready to abandon their garden in August because the weeds are taller than the vegetables. I’m glad you are trying again this year. By starting now, you should be able to keep the weeds from overwhelming you and your vegetables.

Organic mulches prevent weeds by shading the soil. In the vegetable garden I like to start with a layer of newspapers ten to twelve sheets thick. Overlap the papers to completely cover the soil around and between the plants. Flattened cardboard boxes can be used instead of newspaper. On top of the papers add a two to three inch layer of organic matter. For vegetables I prefer compost, chopped leaves (except black walnut leaves), herbicide-free grass chippings, weed-free straw or composted manure. Weeds that grow in the mulch layer are much easier to pull or hoe out. Mulch also moderates extreme swings of soil moisture and temperature; and prevents some plant diseases.

Old-fashioned hand pulling is a great way to control weeds. Tools like a forked dandelion weeder, Japanese hori-hori knife, cobra cultivator and others make hand weeding easier. Focus on loosing and removing individual weeds rather than working up the soil. Deep cultivation or digging can damage vegetable roots and bring more weed seeds to the soil surface. A sharp traditional hoe, stirrup hoe or Dutch hoe makes weed removal easy in larger areas. Cut the weeds tops off at the soil surface.

Although I prefer not to use any herbicides, organic or synthetic, in my vegetable garden, they are a choice for some gardeners. Herbicides should be always be used to supplement, but not replace, other weed control methods. Read the herbicide product label carefully and completely. The pesticide (e.g. herbicide) must be labeled for use in or around the vegetables or fruits you are growing. Active ingredients can be the same in different pesticides, but formulations and additives differ so not all are considered safe for food crops. Read and follow the directions exactly. Pay special attention and adhere to the number of days between application and harvest.


Kenosha County UW-Extension LogoBarb Larson is horticulture educator for the Kenosha County University of Wisconsin Extension. She holds a master’s of science in horticulture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If you have a plant or gardening question, email her at or call 262-857-1942.