Unwanted plants among your treasured blooms can ruin the whole effect. But with the right tools and techniques, you can quickly eliminate the invaders.

By Charlotte Germane
Updated June 10, 2021
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When weeds pop up among your flowers, it can ruin the whole show. However, you can’t just go roaring in with a weed eater and buzz all the greenery to the ground, or spray everything with an herbicide. The trick is to remove weeds as soon as you see them because they will only get bigger and harder to deal with as they grow. But if you miss them when the weeds are just seedlings, the next best thing is to make sure you get rid of them before they flower and go to seed. And remember that keeping up with weeds is something that you'll need to do throughout the whole growing season. The good news is that the more you clear weeds out, the healthier and happier your flowering plants will be.

lush flower bed with black eyed susans and other plants
Credit: Peter Krumhardt

How to Tell If It's a Weed

In the springtime, when the little stems are pushing up through the soil, it can be hard to tell which plant is a weed and which is the $20 beautiful perennial you bought last year. Familiarize yourself with the most common weeds in your area (and use a weed identification guide if you're not sure) to give you confidence as you set forth with your weeding tools in hand.

Use a Scuffle Hoe to Weed While Standing Up

A hoe lets you dispatch many small weeds quickly without having to crouch or kneel down. One of the best types for maneuvering in tight spaces is a lightweight scuffle hoe (the blade can wiggle back and forth rather than remain stationary). All you have to do is run the hoe blade just under the soil surface to slice off the weed stems.

close shot of dandelion in grass
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Dealing With Deep-Rooted Weeds

The hoe trick doesn’t work on all weeds, unfortunately. For those with deep or very dense root systems, you'll need a more targeted approach. For example, when you're up against dandelions, their long taproots have to be removed with a forked weeding tool or a garden knife ($12, The Home Depot). Bindweed and other stubborn plants with tough roots also have to be dug out, possibly with a narrow spade. Use these tips to make it easier on yourself when it’s time to tackle these invaders:

  • Pace yourself, and tackle one small section of the bed at a time
  • Stay in the shade
  • Protect your knees with a kneeling pad or a garden kneeler with handles
  • Wear gloves
  • Carry a weed bucket so there's no clean up of pulled up plants as you go, then dump them into trash or yard waste, not compost
garden bed with mulch and plants
Credit: Doug Hetherington

Layer on Mulch After Weeding

Once you've weeded out all the unwanted plants in your flower bed, this will leave behind open spaces where more weeds can get a chance to take root. Stay one step ahead by filling in bare spots with more flowers or by spreading two inches of mulch over your entire flower bed. That's usually enough to smother any new weed seeds that try to sprout. Just make sure to keep the mulch at least a couple inches away from the stems of your flowering plants to prevent rot. You may also want to install edging around the border of your flower bed, both to help prevent the mulch from washing away when it rains and to keep out grasses creeping in from the lawn.

When and How to Sheet Mulch

If you have a flower bed that is just too overrun with weeds for you to make headway with your best tools or your hands, you may need to try a technique called sheet mulching or lasagna gardening. The idea is to blanket an area with mulch to completely smother weeds, roots and all. This is especially helpful when you have a big space where you want to start a flower bed that currently has nothing but weeds growing in it. But if you also have desirable plants there, you can temporarily relocate them to containers or other beds so you can more easily work on the weedy area. You can sheet mulch any time of year, but starting in spring before weeds have a chance to set seeds is ideal.

Start by cutting down the existing weeds. A lawn mower can help you do this quickly. Then, spread out several layers of newspaper or cardboard over the area, making sure they overlap by at least 6 inches so that no weeds get that chance to sprout in between them. Use a hose to wet the layers thoroughly, then cover them with 4-6 inches of mulch and wet that down. In 6-10 months, all the plants underneath the sheet mulch will be dead and the newspaper or cardboard will have broken down and fed the soil. You could use a layer of plastic over the ground, too, but then you’ll have to remove it later and store or recycle it, so using waste paper is a more trouble-free choice. Sheet mulching also works well for killing areas of lawn that you want to convert to flower beds.

Comments (2)

Anonymous
July 9, 2020
For a more natural way to keep weeds at bay, put down a thick layer of wet newspaper before you put down the mulch and make certain that the newspaper pages overlap. It kills the grass and weeds beneath it, and those few that do manage to sneak through are easily plucked. I've found it works for years and no chemicals needed.
Anonymous
July 24, 2018
Can’t believe you are suggesting glyphosate! Roundup is a known carcinogen —definitely won’t be using that!