A few weeds here and there won’t hurt anything, but when they get out of control, they rob nutrients from your plants and give shelter to disease-spreading pests. How you get rid of the troublemakers depends on where they’re growing, what you want to grow in their place, and how long they’ve been there. Here’s my basic—and totally nontoxic—weed-management policy:
Get ‘em when they’re down. Perennial weeds are at their weakest just before they flower. That’s the time to give them a lethal dose of my Weed-Wipeout Tonic:
1 tbsp. of dishwashing liquid (a mild brand with no antibacterial ingredients)
1 tbsp. of gin
1 tbsp. of vinegar
1 qt. of hot water
Mix all of the ingredients together, and pour the solution into a handheld spray bottle. Then drench the weeds to the point of runoff, taking care not to get any tonic on nearby plants.
Smother them. For unpaved walkways or paths between beds, lay cardboard, brown paper bags, or newspapers over the soil, then spread on whatever kind of topping suits your fancy. Shredded bark, pea gravel, and pine needles, for instance, are all easy on the feet and the eyes.
Procrastinate. Don’t rush to get warmth-craving plants into the ground. When heat lovers have to struggle to grow in cold soil, weeds can quickly do them in.
Seed heavily. Weeds pop up in any bare soil they find. When you’re direct sowing flowers, vegetables, or herbs, cover the space with the plants you want in your garden. Later, you can thin the seedlings to the right distance.
Use transplants. Young plants take off the minute you set them into the ground. That means they can start shading out weeds right from the get-go. Plus, when something green does appear, you’ll know it’s a weed, and you can pull it without worrying that you’re ousting a future friend.
Mulch early and mulch often. A thick layer of organic mulch will stop weeds from sprouting among your plants. It will also keep disease-causing fungi in the soil form splashing up on stems and foliage.