Just because it's winter doesn't mean you should let garden weeds flourish
Be vigilant with your winter weeding and your garden will thank you come springtime
It’s easy to neglect your garden in the fall and winter. The cold weather understandably sends most people running for warm cocoa and a roaring fire.
Plus, if you can’t actually see any weeds from your living room window, it’s easy to pretend they just don’t exist.
But while you're busy ringing in the New Year, butterweed and pennycress are celebrating the We(s)t Coast weather by growing, reseeding and establishing a stranglehold in your garden.
Some, like crab grass, are especially aggressive during the colder months, spreading across frozen soil like a plague. But no worries; the cure is simple.
Fight Cold-weather Weeds with Cover Crops
With vegetable gardens or any large plant bed, a number of different strategies can be used to help prevent unwanted growth. Some gardeners plant winter cover crops such as clover or winter wheat to discourage infestation. Bonus: you’ll find that when spring rolls around, your soil is richer in nutrients than it would’ve otherwise been.
Unfortunately, it's a little late in the year to plant these crops now. Others use layers of newspaper, straw or plastic sheets as a winter cover, but the result isn’t always very aesthetically pleasing; if that’s a problem, bark or leaf mulch is a solid alternative. Regardless, ongoing weed surveillance is still required.
Hand Weeding: Necessary, Especially in Smaller Beds
Unappealing as it may seem, rolling up your sleeves and pulling them out by hand is still your most effective deterrent. Do a quick survey of beds and edges once a week, pulling out any crab grass or other interlopers that may have taken up residence, making sure to check under plants or shrubs for anything that's growing underneath.
Look in containers and raised beds as well, as many weeds that seeded during the summer will now be in bloom. A hoe or hand rake can be helpful for weeding larger areas, but they need to be used carefully so that bulbs and plant roots are not disturbed. Don’t let the cold make you lazy; as in the sunnier months, unless weeds are removed completely, they find a way to grow.
Casualties of Winter Weeds: A Cautionary Tale
If you allow an area to become completely and deeply infested with weeds while you’re getting your warm and cozy on, drastic removal measures will be required in the spring.
How bad can it possibly get, you ask? Well, I had an area of my garden that I “let go” for a long period of time during the winter and in the end, the top inch and a half of weed-saturated soil had to be sheared off with a flat-bottomed shovel.
Although this may sound like a convenient solution, it was a lot of hard work and during the process many bulbs and plants were lost. Don’t let this happen to you.
So take one last swig of cocoa, grab some warm gloves and get to work.