My Favorite Weed-Fighting Tips and Tools

posted by Andrea | 05/12/2016
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front planting beds

Since we have a pretty large yard (about an acre) and lots of planting beds, I am often asked how we deal with (and prevent) weeds.

I don’t have a perfect system, and I’ve come to accept that a few weeds will ALWAYS be lurking in our planting beds; however, after 4 LONG summers of intense landscape renovations and lots and lots of weeding, Dave and I finally feel like we have a pretty decent system for dealing with the weeds we have AND preventing the majority of “weed seeds” from germinating.

And yes, we’ve learned mainly through trial and error (remember the bazillion maple tree seedlings we had to pull by hand a few years ago!?!?)

Aso, the picture below really was a weed in our garden last summer! Dave thought it was a plant so he never picked it — and I was occupied with my brand new baby (and my broken toe) so I didn’t do much weeding last summer!

Anyway, like I mentioned above, I feel like we finally have a good weed-prevention system in place, and so far this year, we’ve had very few weeds to deal with. Hopefully our method will continue to work all summer and fall and we won’t need to spend much time weeding this year!

If you hate weeds as much as I do, here are my favorite weed-fighting tips and tools!

Remove Actively Growing Weeds First

It’s inevitable that weeds always seem to grow before plants in our yard 🙂

So every Spring, before we spread mulch, I go through all our planting beds and remove any actively growing weeds by either pulling them out or spraying them with Roundup (we use an off-brand, but it’s the same concept).

I usually do it one section at a time, sometimes while the kids are outside playing and sometimes after they go to bed. The last couple of years, we truly haven’t had many weeds so this process goes quite quickly.

The 3 main weeding tools I use are:

1. Round Up (in a 1-gallon sprayer)

2. A weeder stick (pictured below) or very skinny hand shovel

3. A 5-gallon bucket

I usually keep my weeder stick in the 5-gallon bucket and carry that around with me when I’m outside with the kids. If I see a weed, I pull it and dump it in the bucket. When the bucket is full, I dump it in our yard waste container.

Nora and Simon think it’s a game so they often “spy for weeds” and although they rarely get the roots, I’m happy to have them help out as weeding will someday be their job 🙂

If there are weeds in hard-to-reach places (like cracks of the sidewalk) or if there are lots of weeds in one particular area, I’ll often just spray them with RoundUp (or an off-brand version) to completely kill off the roots. I’ll pull them once they are dead, or just cover them with mulch if they are in a planting bed.

In my experience, if I do a good job of weeding everything once in the Spring, I will need to spend very little time weeding during the Summer and Fall months (especially since I use the following 2 simple steps to prevent future weed growth)!

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Prevent Future Weed Growth

Since I personally have no interest in weeding all spring, summer, and fall, we use 2 very basic steps to prevent future weed growth in our garden and our planting beds.

1. We spread a relatively thick layer of mulch each spring. 

This is not necessarily the most fun thing we do all year, but Dave and I have a good system and we can usually spread our 40 yards of mulch over the course of 2 weeks (working mostly after kids are sleeping at night). He scoops and dumps, I spread everything out (yes, I get the better end of the deal!)

We get the least expensive hardwood mulch (natural color) and since we buy so much every year, the company gives us a deal and free delivery 🙂

2. We spread Preen in our planting beds 3 times every season.

Immediately after spreading the mulch, I go back and sprinkle Preen weed preventer over all the mulched areas. Preen prevents seeds from germinating — so while you wouldn’t want to use this on your vegetable garden (at least not if you’re growing them from seed) it’s a great way to prevent weed growth in your planting beds.

I usually spread Preen in late April (after we spread the mulch), in mid July, and then in early October. I’m not positive the early October time is necessary, but many of our plants are actively growing until mid-late November, and I feel like one more application of Preen in the Fall helps to cut down on weeds that pop up the following Spring.

We’ve been doing these few things consistently over the past 4 years and I’ve almost worked myself out of a job — at least in the weeding department!

Oh, and I should mention that we do NOT use any sort of black plastic or felt layer under our mulch. I don’t think it’s a horrible idea if you do have it; we just have way too many planting beds and I’m constantly moving plants around so it doesn’t make sense for us. Plus, by following the steps I’ve detailed above, we really don’t feel like it’s necessary to prevent weeds from our planting beds!

What are your best weed-fighting tips and tools?

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24 comments

  1. Linda Bolt

    06/12/2016

    How did you figure out how much mulch you would need the first time?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    When we had our landscape designers design the landscape, they told us how much mulch we would need. We will definitely get less next year as the plants are getting a lot bigger and we don’t need it as thick anymore.

    I think, if you can measure the area of the planting beds, the company you order mulch from could tell you how much you’d need.

    [Reply]

  2. lyss

    05/13/2016

    Your lawn and gardens are always so beautiful! I don’t think our front yard even has any grass…it’s all just weeds! I know you’re cringing! Oh, well. At least it’s green, and when mowed it looks nice. lol. I’ve been working on the weeds in side beds, but they seriously got out of control. Definitely need to get a bunch of mulch.
    I’m using a combination of pulling all the big ones, and spraying with a vinegar solution. (Vinegar with some epsom salt and dish soap) It does kill them, but I have to keep at it, because more weeds keep coming up. Perhaps roundup is more effective, but I refuse to use chemicals. I’ve read that salt or cornmeal help prevent weed seeds from sprouting. Maybe I’ll give those a try.
    We have also been moving around a tarp to smother weeds in our large rock-covered area. You’d think layers of rocks would prevent weeds from growing. Ha! A dark tarp laid on the ground for a few days in the hot sun works really well. : )

    [Reply]

    Ruby Bee Reply:

    The glyphosate in products like RoundUp and Preen is harming us and our environment. I am a retired medical doctor and I never let my children or animals play in a yard treated with chemicals. A person cannot rely on government safety recommendations for about 3 decades now. 3 decades ago was when campaign finance laws began to be seriously eroded.

    https://theintercept.com/2016/05/17/new-evidence-about-the-dangers-of-monsantos-roundup/

    [Reply]

  3. Joy

    05/13/2016

    Thank you for showing a weed stick! We have one because the previous owner left it. I never knew what it was

    [Reply]

  4. Carol

    05/12/2016

    Andrea, Roundup is really bad for the environment and people. Has been called a very probable carcinogen. I won’t use anything like that because of the grandchildren and our dogs. Please rethink what you are using around your yard. As for weeds, especially the ones in cracks etc. plain old vinegar works. Been using it for years. Don’t particularly like the smell, but it doesn’t last that long really.

    Just my two cents. Love your emails.

    [Reply]

    Anne Reply:

    ^^ Yes! ^^

    The impacts of Roundup are really awful for human health, ground water, storm water/run off, and insects we really need (think bees and butterflies).

    [Reply]

    Nicole Reply:

    I’m really surprised to see you using chemicals like this. In our province they are looking to ban it because it is so dangerous.

    [Reply]

  5. Wilma

    05/12/2016

    FYI: In March, the WHO reclassified Round-Up as “probably carcinogenic”. There has been some controversy about this new label in Canada, but it is something to think about, at least.

    [Reply]

  6. Avia

    05/12/2016

    Great tips! I usually don’t mind weeding in the spring because I’m just happy to be outside but it’s torture the rest of the year. I have Preen but hardly every use it. I think it’s because I didn’t really understand how it worked and was always afraid I was going to kill my live plants. That it keeps seeds from germinating is a great bit of info.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes! Preen PREVENTS weeds from germinating! I shouldn’t harm anything that is already established.

    [Reply]

    Brandette W. Reply:

    I am SO thankful for this post! We just built a new house and in March we worked so hard to put all the landscaping liner down and then new mulch, hoping to combat weeds!! So far, it has helped tremendously. But, I would love to use the Preen pellets you referenced. I just never knew how to use them. I thought if I sprinkled it on my flowerbeds, it would kill my existing plants and shrubs that are planted in there. My husband would kill me! I am really really interested in trying it. Do I just sprinkle it over my new mulch and it gets watered down into the mulch helping to prevent weeds from starting? I am very intrigued!

    [Reply]

    Ruby Bee Reply:

    Preen has glyphosate in it.

    [Reply]

  7. Marsha

    05/12/2016

    Andrea,

    your picture of the weed, looks like Johnson Grass (Sorghum Halepence)
    We have lots growing in Texas, along the roadsides and pastures.
    very hard to control.
    Love your yard.

    Marsha

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Marsha! I have no idea what type of weed it was — but I am glad it’s gone 🙂

    [Reply]

  8. Lynn O.

    05/12/2016

    Great post and great timing! I started using my weed stick a couple of weeks ago to pull up dandelions. It is so therapeutic! In fact it rained again last night so the soil is great for pulling more! Thanks for sharing.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    It is therapeutic at times… especially when the kids are sleeping 🙂

    [Reply]

  9. Audra

    05/12/2016

    I wish we could use Preen as an option…..or even that bark that is treated with a weed preventer. We have two dogs who often chew on little shredded bark pieces. I’ve been told it can poison them to the point of death depending on how much they chew at one time. 🙁 We do spray the weeds in certain areas and then watch the dogs like a hawk for a couple days. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    ah… one more reason we don’t have pets 🙂

    [Reply]

  10. Cara

    05/12/2016

    Your landscape is beautiful! Your hard work is defiantly showing! 🙂

    Have you ever put Preen on top of the old bark before you spread the new bark? I am not getting new bark this year, would you still put Preen on the bark?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yup, you can definitely use it on old mulch. You just always want to use it on TOP (whether it’s new or old mulch) because when it’s on top, it will get watered in and prevent weeds from growing!

    [Reply]

  11. Christine @ The Mostly Simple Life

    05/12/2016

    Preen is definitely helpful. Our yard was a disaster when we bought our house and we’ve been fighting it ever since. The garden beds are ok now. I need to do a bit more weeding but it’s not crazy. Our lawn is another story. No matter what I do the weeds get worse every year! Drives me nuts! 🙂

    [Reply]

  12. Chris

    05/12/2016

    Oh, wow! I don’t think I’ve heard of Preen. I want to start using that! Sounds awesome.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, check it out — it IS awesome!

    [Reply]