Many gardening struggles naturally fade away with an experience. Weeds, however, do not. If you want to enjoy a weed-free garden, you’ll need to take initiative and do something about those pesky, unwanted plants yourself.
It may or may not come as a surprise that preventing weeds in flower beds is a much better strategy than just removing them. Simply pulling new weeds as they appear is a losing battle.
In this article, I’ll cover some of my favorite tried and true methods for keeping persistent weeds under control. If you want to learn how to keep weeds out of flower beds without wasting valuable time or money this year, keep reading!
- Weed Prevention Is Better Than Cure
- 5 Steps To Keep Weeds Out Of Flower Beds
- How Do Weeds Get In Flower Beds
- SOLVED: Preventing Weeds In Flower Beds
Weed Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Something every gardener must learn is that it’s better to prevent weeds than it is to remove them. And there are several reasons why.
The most obvious benefit of preventing weeds rather than treating them as they appear is that your garden beds will never be marred by unsightly weeds in the first place. This is especially important when it comes to those beds that are front and center in the landscape.
Generally speaking, weed prevention strategies are safer for desirable plants than post-emergent treatments. Even hand-pulling can damage more delicate flowers if you’re not extremely careful. The only exception to this rule would be if you plan to start flower or vegetable seeds in your garden within the near future.
Not to mention the fact that some common weeds, once established, are nearly impossible to remove. Ground ivy (also known as creeping Charlie) is a prime example within my own yard.
Last but not least, I find that weed prevention is better for overall morale. My own garden beds were taken over by weeds when we first moved in, and I never want to go through that removal process again if I can help it! I would much, much rather invest in weed prevention a couple of times per year.
5 Steps To Keep Weeds Out Of Flower Beds
Building consistent habits around weed prevention are the best way to turn this arduous garden chore into a regular part of your routine. Small bits of maintenance spread throughout the year tend to be more effective than spending an entire day pulling or spraying noxious weeds.
However, no amount of prevention will do the trick if you allow existing weeds to flourish. Ideally, existing weeds should be removed or killed prior to going to seed. Your ultimate goal, after all, is to prevent new weeds from growing.
1. Spray Existing Weeds in Flower Beds
Herbicides can be used in flower beds as long as you proceed with caution. However, I do not recommend using chemical herbicides near particularly delicate or valuable plants.
When possible, I suggest using a selective herbicide in garden beds. Selective herbicides only target some plants, leaving others completely unharmed. (Be sure to read the label of any given herbicide to determine which plants it does and does not kill.)
Non-selective herbicides target nearly all plant species. Glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — is a common example of a non-selective herbicide. Some weeds will only respond to non-selective formulas.
2. Put Down A Weed Barrier
A weed barrier is a material laid over garden beds that prevent new weeds from sprouting. It is typically covered by a layer of topsoil or mulch.
The best time to lay down a weed barrier in a garden bed is before you’ve planted anything.
Landscape fabric is incredibly popular among home gardeners and professional landscapers. However, it’s not my first choice in most situations.
Landscape fabric becomes practically useless once it develops large holes or a sufficient layer of soil builds up over the top of it. At the same time, many types of landscape fabric are non-biodegradable and will remain in the environment for the foreseeable future.
In other words, landscape fabric provides quick results against persistent garden weeds. But it is far from ideal as a long-term solution.
Also, you don’t want to use landscape fabric in beds where annuals or flowering bulbs will be planted. The fabric barrier will prevent these plants from reaching the soil’s surface just as it does any unwanted weeds.
Old Cardboard Boxes
A surprising alternative to landscape fabric is regular old cardboard. According to the University of California Master Gardeners program, placing a layer of cardboard over the soil offers practically all of the benefits of landscape fabric with few drawbacks.
Like landscape fabric, cardboard smothers existing weeds and prevents new ones from sprouting. It is also biodegradable and will break down into the soil after enough time passes.
Again, cardboard is not a permanent solution against weeds. But it is a great way to create a clean slate within a garden bed without the potential issues caused by landscape fabric.
3. Cover with Thick Layers of Mulch
With enough mulch, you can achieve the same results as you’d get from landscape fabric or a layer of cardboard. Fresh mulch creates a protective layer over the soil that can kill small weeds and keep new seeds from germinating.
Mulch is a great option for established flower beds. It can be easily laid down around existing plants without causing any damage.
Organic Manure or Compost
Aged manure and compost are excellent sources of organic nutrition. Many gardeners add these materials to the topsoil in place of (or in addition to) synthetic fertilizers.
When first applied to the soil, manure and compost can temporarily smother existing weeds. However, these materials will quickly incorporate into the garden soil below. The weed control offered by such organic materials is very short-lived.
Leaf mulch is a lightweight option that many gardeners can source from their own yards. Though leaf mulch breaks down quickly, it can be used during the peak growing season to prevent new weeds from growing.
Applying leaf mulch to garden beds in the fall can keep out cool-season weeds and their seeds. Be prepared to replace the leaf mulch with another material in the spring.
Wood mulch is perhaps the most versatile option available. There are many different colors and textures available to choose from. You can also purchase shredded wood mulch — I find this material to be the best choice for use around delicate annuals and perennials.
The right wood mulch can block weeds for several years. However, it’s important to remember that wood chip mulch must be replaced on a consistent schedule. This is because wood mulch is an organic material that will slowly decompose into the soil below.
Grass clippings are a form of organic mulch that quickly breaks down into the soil. You can use lawn clippings to cover vegetable and flower beds.
In my experience, grass clippings are the least effective mulch when it comes to preventing weeds. You also need to be cautious when using lawn clippings in the garden, since some clippings may contain residual herbicides. I do not recommend using grass clippings that contain weed seed heads.
Gravel or Pebbles
Rock mulch provides a sturdy barrier between the soil and potential weeds. However, gravel and pebbles are only suitable for some types of garden beds.
You can safely use rock mulch around durable perennials, especially woody shrubs. Ideally, you should leave an empty margin around the base of plants so that the rocks do not damage stems or trunks. I don’t recommend using rock mulch around annual flowers or vegetables.
4. Densely Plant Your Flower Beds
Weeds will take advantage of any and all empty spaces within your garden. So the less bare soil that exists between flowers the better.
Plant flowers as close together as possible. This will eliminate spaces where weed seeds can land and germinate.
Vigorous flowers that are well-suited to your climate will give most competing weeds a run for their money. Large perennials like hostas and peonies work particularly well against stray weeds. The foliage of such plants shades the soil, creating an environment less favorable to weeds and their seeds.
If weeds establish themselves within your garden beds in the spring, consider planting more flowers that grow earlier in the year. There are many spring bulbs and perennials that will emerge, bloom, and die back just in time for your summer flowers to take center stage.
Use Ground Cover Plants
Ground cover plants are those that spread along the ground, creating a dense carpet over the soil’s surface. The most famous example of a ground cover plant would definitely be turf grass. However, there are many others to choose from.
Ground cover plants are an easy way to fill a garden bed without using dozens (or even hundreds) of individual plants to get the job done. These plants naturally fill in empty space between other flowers so that there is no room for weeds to grow.
Some excellent flowering ground cover species to consider include:
- Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata)
- Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
- Soapwort (Saponaria x lempergii)
- Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa)
- Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
- Sedum (Sedum sp.)
5. Pull Rogue Weeds Before they Seed
If you have limited time with which to rid your flower garden of weeds, this step is the one you should definitely incorporate into your routine.
A large number of garden weeds are annuals, so interrupting even one generation of seeds can make a huge difference in future years. However, this technique will not be as effective against perennial weeds or those that spread vegetatively spreading roots and stems.
Spraying or pulling weeds before they go to seed will require considerable diligence on your part. Not all weed flowers are bright and showy — some are very easy to overlook. Also, fast-growing weeds can go from sprout to seed incredibly quickly. Check your garden regularly for the best results.
Keep in mind that many weed seeds can lay dormant in the soil for quite some time. Even if you remove all of the weeds in your garden before they go to seed, you may still see sprouts the following year. Don’t be discouraged!
How Do Weeds Get In Flower Beds
Weeds and their seeds are practically everywhere. Still, it can be surprising when weeds sprout in your garden bed seemingly out of nowhere.
There are countless methods by which weed seeds spread from location to location. When it comes to outdoor flower beds, however, these are the most likely culprits:
It’s very common to notice a flush of weed activity after tilling or otherwise digging up an existing garden bed. This typically happens because weed seeds that were buried several inches deep are brought up to the surface.
The wind is a valuable tool for all plants in need of seed dispersal. Some weed seeds are so small that they’re carried by the wind much like specks of dust. Others have specialized structures — e.g., dandelion seeds’ umbrella-like tufts — that take full advantage of a strong breeze.
Falling water droplets from rain or an irrigation system can knock seeds loose from their parent plants. Those seeds, which are light enough to float, are then easily carried by run-off into nearby garden beds.
Many plants have adapted so that their seeds are spread by wildlife. Birds frequently carry fruit and seeds far and wide. But many animals also drop seeds in their excrement. (In fact, some plants have evolved seeds that only germinate after passing through an animal’s digestive tract!)
Outdoor garden beds are constantly being visited by various creatures, and it’s inevitable that those animals will sometimes need to use the restroom. Even pets can be responsible for depositing weed seeds in your landscape.
SOLVED: Preventing Weeds In Flower Beds
Effective weed control can be overwhelming for gardeners of all experience levels. This is largely because there are so many strategies to choose from. Regardless of the control methods you prefer, I strongly recommend employing a mix of prevention and removal for the best results.
Keep in mind that non-chemical control strategies are surprisingly effective in most cases. They are also generally safer for the user and the environment at large. If you must turn to chemical solutions, be sure to identify the weeds in question before selecting an appropriate herbicide.