You may have heard that a weed is just a misplaced plant. This benign view of weeds doesn't take into account the effect they have on your tender young vegetables. If ignored, weeds will quickly take over your vegetable garden, crowding out young plants and robbing them of water and nutrients. Many gardeners today avoid using herbicides, especially on food crops. While you'll never completely eliminate weeds, a few gardening tactics can cut down on these pesky plants.
Till your garden soil in early spring, three to four weeks before you plan to put in seeds. Cover the garden with a sheet of black plastic, using rocks to secure the corners. The black plastic warms the soil, causing faster seed germination and plant growth once you start your garden. It also kills any weeds growing underneath and prevents weed germination.
Build raised beds for your vegetable garden. Raised beds provide many benefits, including fewer weeds, improved drainage and better soil. Create small paths between the beds so you don't need to walk in the beds. Place a layer of landscape fabric on the paths, and cover it with gravel or wood mulch to eliminate weeds.
Grow your plants closer together than conventionally directed. Especially when using raised beds, you can plant most crops 2 to 4 inches closer together than directed by seed packets. When plants are grown this way, weeds are crowded out. In addition, you'll harvest more crops in the same space.
Water and feed your plants properly to keep them healthy. Strong, healthy plants crowd out weeds and are less vulnerable to disease and damage.
Pull weeds by hand when your plants are very young, as this is the time when plants are most susceptible to damage from weeds. Pull the weeds or cultivate gently with a hoe so you don't disturb plant roots. As your plants grow, they will shade the ground and crowd out most weeds.