I know I’ve said it before, but weeds LOVE, LOVE, LOVE poor soils. They are opportunists, bullies and pioneers. Their purpose in the ecosystem is to colonize and rebuild damaged soils. The problem this creates on the human scale is that we are notoriously good at trashing soil, and famously impatient when it comes to natural processes. Over time native plants will make their way back, but it will take a very, very long time. Not practical for humans. In the soil chapter I have outlined ways to improve soil quality to help in the battle against weeds. Here are a few ways to deal with weeds above ground.
Chop and Drop
It may make some people cringe, but chop and drop can be a successful way to deal with weeds. If you are in a sunny, warm climate, whatever you pull up and deposit on top of your mulch in the middle of the day will surely desiccate quickly. I use chop and drop very effectively for dandelions, bindweed, thistle and any other weed that has not gone to seed. However, I leave them on top of the mulch and not below. They usually blend in visually in a day or two on slightly aged mulch.
For weedy species that have aggressive runners (like quack grass) I fully dry them out then add them to my compost bin. I will collect them and lay them out on a sunny chunk of concrete for about a week or so. -I spread them thinly so that in that time even the roots dry out. It’s not the prettiest way to do it, but I don’t mind it for a short time. I have never had a problem arise from this treatment, but I am always POSITIVE that the roots are desiccated before I deposit them to my compost bin. When you know that weeds prospect for nutrients, it’s hard to throw all their nutrient packed goodness in the garbage.
Those are the ‘easy’ weeding jobs. Serious weeding tasks are almost always made easier by moist (not soggy) soil and a thick layer of mulch. Weeds generally pop right out in those situations. If you have an area thick with weeds, it is sometimes easier to take a straight shovel and scrape where the soil and mulch meet. This cuts the weeds from their roots quickly. You can then leave the weeds there if they won’t reroot, or you can rake them up and take them elsewhere. I only use that technique in severe situations, but it makes quick work of a ‘bad’ area. The weeds WILL pop back up, but at a more manageable pace. Sometimes it’s just best to regain control over an area so that maintaining it doesn’t seem futile. This technique works really well with undesirable seedlings.
If any area is really bad with weeds and seeds you can try a few different things. You can either sheet mulch the area to regain control or plant the area with a fast growing annual crop meant to choke everything out. (Don’t let the annual crop go to seed or it will be the new weed.) Sheet mulching and seeding annual cover crops are covered in further detail in the soil section.
Patience, tenacity and diligence are a weeds worst enemies.