I've since learned that mulching and regular weeding makes the task less imposing. Now when I focus a day on weeding, the activity takes less than an hour. The key is to stay on top of weeds. Pulling a few every time you're in the garden helps keep them from overrunning your plants.
Mulch is a critical first-line defense. One of the wonderful attributes of mulch is that it reduces weeds. When weeds do pop through the mulch they're often easy to identify and easy to remove. A simple tug is usually enough to dislodge them. This year my raised beds are all mulched and I've been able to keep them virtually weed-free. The weeds still invade but with only five or ten minutes of effort every other day I can eliminate them from all 13 beds.
Because I make an almost daily effort to weed, my hands are the tools of choice. I grab the solitary invader close to the soil surface and pull it out. Because of my vigilance they seldom have seeds so I just toss the little plant on top the mulch to decompose and add some nutrients back to my soil.
When weeds are more plentiful, particularly in un-mulched areas, trying to pull each one by hand can be daunting. That's when real tools come into play. While you can find dozens of weed-fighting options, there are three weed attackers that I keep in my weapons bin: a dandelion weeder (also called a taproot weeder), a right-handed weeder (AKA a collinear hand weeder), and a stirrup hoe (AKA a shuffle hoe or Dutch hoe).
As I mentioned in the previous article, weed identification is important. Knowing your weeds will help you choose the correct tool for removing them. Using a stirrup hoe on dandelions won't kill them, but it will cut off the plant before it flowers and sets seed. My nemesis is Purslane; it is easily removed by hand or tool, but is very resistant to herbicides.
Purslane is grown by some gardeners on purpose because it is edible and supposedly tastes good in a salad. For me it is a scourge. In my previous garden it grew rampant and was the reason I had to spend so much time weeding. In my current garden it hasn't taken hold and I make extra effort to keep it that way. Some seeds obviously hitchhiked in soil of transplants I moved to our new home. Purslane grows quickly and sets seed early; it will even set seed after it's been pulled. When I see it I pull it and I discard larger plants in the trash so they won't have any chance of spreading seed. If I delay in my duties it may take over and I don't want that to happen. By knowing this weed I know how important it is to deal with it.
One last factor needs to be considered when weeding. There are millions of seeds in the soil of a typical home landscape. Each of those seeds is waiting for the opportunity to germinate and make your day a little more challenging. The majority of them will never sprout, but every time you dig or disturb the soil you give some of them the chance. When you pull a weed you are also pulling up soil that contains the brother and sister seeds of that plant and they're more than willing to replace it. That's one reason weeding seems to be a never-ending chore and why they tend to grow in groups.
When you use a hoe or hand tool you will wake up seeds hiding in the soil. You better be prepared to repeat the process regularly. A benefit of herbicides is that they don't disturb the soil. The plant dies and nearby seeds aren't encouraged to grow. That's a primary reason I use herbicides on my garden paths; it reduces the number of future weeds.
Weeding isn't pleasurable. If you want to give your plants the best opportunity for success you need to remove competitors and weeding becomes necessary. How you do it is up to you. Hands, tools, and chemicals are about the only ways to attack them and you get to choose your preferred method. Consider a combination as I do. Regardless of your tack, if you act early and often the overall effort becomes easier.