Short answer: you don't. They will grow in spite of all you do. The only
thing you can do is to kill them when they show (or even before).
There's a thing called a hoe. It is effective in killing small to
moderate sized weeds. Operated clumsily, it is also effective in killing
crops. It takes some practice to get the hang of it. Since you're new to
gardening and don't have the regular hoe skills, I would suggest that
instead of getting a regular hoe, you get a collinear hoe. With a
regular hoe you bend over and chop at the weeds with the blade. With a
collinear hoe (so-called because the cutting edge is in line with the
axis of the handle), you don't chop, you sweep like you were using a
broom. This allows you to stand upright instead of bending over and
really saves your back. The drawback of the collinear hoe is that it
doesn't handle large weeds well (more than about 2" high).
Note that there are weeds growing in your garden several days before you
see them. Take a handful of garden soil that has been undisturbed for a
week to 10 days and stir it. Assuming that it has moisture and the soil
temperature is moderately warm, you will probably see little white
threads in the soil. Those are weed roots which form long before the
leaves emerge. One of the most effective ways to keep your weeds (and
effort) down is to kill the weeds when they are very small. I would
recommend running the hoe down beside the row of plants weekly, whether
or not you see any weeds. You don't have to work hard at it, just hold
the hoe blade 1/2 inch below the surface and walk along next to your
plants. It takes some practice to get close to the plants without
cutting them off, but it can be done. If you keep at it regularly, the
amount of work is not large, but if you let them grow, the amount of
work required increases quickly.
If your garden gets larger you might consider a wheel hoe, which is a
wheel on a handle with a hoe behind it. It's easier to use for long
rows, but more difficult to get into irregular spaces with. It also
costs much more than the hand hoe. A good wheel hoe is on the order of
$200, a collinear hoe is around $30 (your back is worth it) and the old
style backbreaker hoe can probably be found for $5. There are other
types of hoes that other people swear by and one of them might fit your
style better. Ask your neighbors what they use and try them out.
Weed killers can be used, but you have to have some experience with
them, since they can damage crops as well as weeds (of course one way to
acquire experience is by making mistakes). Weed killers come in many
different flavors: grasses, broadleaf weeds, kill-everything stuff, etc.
Overuse of weedkillers can affect the groundwater (which is the source
of most of the water you drink, whether or not you have your own well).
Overuse of a hoe will lead to sore muscles, but they are a renewable
resource. Hoeing gets you out into the sunshine (wear sunblock) and
fresh (hopefully) air. Hoeing gives you a better appreciation of nature
and plant competition, and the vegetables you put some work into will
taste much better, the flowers will look much brighter. (That's called
I have no interest in any company that sells or manufactures hoes.
try different methods for different weeds in different situatoins.
don't spend much time weeding. i let certain plants smother other plants.
i hand pull the easier weeds before they seed. i also use a shovel or just
pull out small trees and bushes. and i use roundup in difficult to
maintain areas such as gravel edges. (most are usually difficult to
maintain due to politics, rather than horticultural causes)
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