How to Control Weeds When Planting

26 July 2021

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

No matter what you choose to grow in the garden, at some point, you will have to deal with unwanted plants, known as weeds.

Lee Reich is a gardener, and he writes about gardening for The Associated Press. He says a weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place. Even a tomato plant can become a weed if it grows where you don't want it to.

The problems with weeds

Besides being unwanted, what else do weeds do to a garden? Well, weeds can bring many problems.

One problem is this: Weeds steal from nearby plants. They steal nutrients and water. If they grow large enough, weeds can steal, or rather block, sunlight from other plants.

Weeds, explained Reich, also can bring harmful bugs and diseases into your garden. For example, a plant called horse nettle is a favorite food for a kind of beetle. This beetle also likes to eat potato plants. So, if you are growing potatoes, you do not want horsenettle nearby.

Some weeds release chemicals that can slow the growth of nearby plants. A plant called lambsquarters is guilty of this. The chemicals it releases into the soil may hurt the growth of vegetables such as corn and tomato.

They're not all bad.

It is important to note that some weeds are not all bad. In fact, some are edible. In other words, you can eat them.

One edible weed is the one we just mentioned -- lambsquarters. It is not just edible. It is also very nutritious.

The website Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners says that the leaves of lambsquarters "contain more iron and protein than raw cabbage or spinach, more calcium and vitamin B1 than raw cabbage, and more vitamin B2 than cabbage or spinach."

In the book How to Enjoy Your Weeds, English writer Audrey Wynne Hatfield writes that lambsquarters was "once the most valued vegetable for human beings and..." their animals.

Dandelions are also viewed as a weed by many people. But dandelion leaves are also full of nutrients. And you can eat or use nearly every part of the plant.

A field of dandelions bloom in a farmer's field in East Montpelier, Vermont, May 23, 2013 . (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
A field of dandelions bloom in a farmer's field in East Montpelier, Vermont, May 23, 2013 . (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

But even other weeds can do good things in our garden. So, before we hurry outside to kill all the weeds, Reich warns us to consider their good side.

He says that weeds protect bare soil. The roots of weeds can prevent the soil from being blown away by wind or washed away by rain.

Over time, he writes, weeds improve the soil in many ways. Their roots break up soil to improve air flow and nutrient content. As the roots of weeds die, they add important nutrients to the soil. And some weeds may correct mineral imbalances in the soil.

Ways to control weeds

However, left to grow on their own, weeds can take over a garden. Many plants are considered weeds because they grow quickly and easily in bad conditions.

To slow the growth of weeds, add a layer of weed-free, organic material to the top of your garden, around the plants. This material, called mulch, improves the soil and keeps weeds from growing. Reich says wood chips, sawdust, grass clippings, straw and pine needles are good for mulches.

A simple and effective method of weed control is to break up the surface layer of the soil. But you must do this regularly.

However, Reich gives this warning: Do not turn the soil over. Ever. Buried in the soil are weed seeds, waiting for the right conditions. If you turn the soil over, you give those seeds the light and air they need to grow.

Reich says to avoid using other man-made materials that may harm the environment, such as landscape fabrics or black plastic. Over time, landscape fabrics become mixed with soil and roots. This makes it difficult to reshape a garden. Black plastic eventually finds its way into the trash. And neither is good at controlling weeds. And, Reich says, they are both ugly.

Herbicides are chemicals that kill plants. Reich says they should be a last resort, or the last thing you try because everything else has failed. These chemicals may harm garden plants or other parts of the environment. They often hurt pollinators, like bees and butterflies.

Probably the best way to fight some weeds is to eat them! Just make sure they are, in fact, edible.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

Lee Reich writes regularly about gardening for The Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted his writing for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

gardener – n. one who spends time cultivating plants and tending a garden for pleasure or recreation

edible – adj. suitable or safe to eat

bare – adj. not covered by leaves, grass, trees, or plants

layer – n. an amount of something that is spread over an area

wood chip – n.

sawdust – n. tiny particles of wood that are formed from sawing or sanding wood

grass clipping – n. the cut grasses that are left behind—or captured in a grass catcher—by your mower when you cut your lawn

straw – n. the dry stems of wheat and other grain plants

landscape fabric – n. a textile material used to control weeds by inhibiting their exposure to sunlight

pollinator – n. an agent (such as an insect) that pollinates flowers