Run a mower over the land to reduce the weeds’ height further. Now that all the weeds are as short as possible and the stumps have been removed, rent a large tiller to uproot all the weeds. Since this plot of ground is uncultivated soil, you will need a tiller that has some power: Do not undertake this task with a small garden cultivator! Allow the tiller’s tines to dig deep enough into the ground to loosen the weeds, so they can be removed—roots and all, if possible.
Of course, if you use an organic mulch (such as a bark mulch), it will eventually decompose anyhow, becoming fertile ground for weeds. What can you do? Well, you had better keep new weeds pulled, faithfully. Vigorous roots pushing downwards can stress landscape fabric and breakthrough. On the bright side, these weeds should be relatively easy to pull, since mulch is a lot looser than dirt, and weed roots will not become impossibly entrenched.
Now you truly have a “clean slate” with which to work. Remove the plastic and lay down landscape fabric. You should try to use one of the stronger types of landscape fabric if possible, just in case—in spite of your best efforts—any sharp objects remain in the ground (which would puncture the landscape fabric).
Soil solarization is a preventive, organic method of killing weeds before weed seeds even sprout. But the advice below is also meant for homeowners wishing to start a garden with a clean slate, reclaiming a patch of land where weeds have taken over, in such a way as to reduce to a minimum the hassle of future weed control. Want to transform a piece of land that has “gone to pot” into usable space? Then the method explained below may be the solution to your problems.
If there are shrubs and trees present, cut them down with an ax or chainsaw. The ground needs to be smooth before you begin soil solarization (since you will be spreading plastic over it), so you will also have to remove the stumps left behind. If you are looking for a cheap way, use a tool called a “mattock.” Dig and chop your way with the mattock under the root-ball to access and remove the taproot. Warning: this is hard work and may be feasible only for smaller stumps.
Because, as Kat discovered, yanking weeds that have already gone to seed spreads the seeds. When weeds are seedy, don’t pull right away. Instead use that flame weeder to incinerate the tops of the plants. Then run the flame up and down the sides of the plants; wherever you see seed pods. The torch will toast those seeds, and you can then pull out the plants without planting next year’s crop of weeds. Bonus: Many weed seeds look like Munchkin fireworks when they pop!
Q. I’m looking for advice on how to get an area of my garden back under control without using chemicals . I failed to keep up with the weeding in a section of my vegetable garden that is about fifteen by 30 feet. It had crabgrass, clover and a few other weeds that went to seed. I ripped them all out as best I could, but can’t get all the roots out—and I can see that a lot of seed has scattered on the surface of the soil. I wonder if covering the area with impermeable black plastic until next May would kill everything? Or maybe it makes things worse by keeping the area warm enough for the weeds to survive the winter?
Now: why did I say ‘weeds of almost any size’?
Anyway; next season, delay planting these areas until any missed weed seeds have germinated and been growing for two weeks. Then carefully and methodically slice them off at the soil line with a hoe that has a flat super-sharp blade, like a diamond hoe—creating what’s known as a ‘stale seed bed’. And whatever you do, don’t till the soil; tilling plants weed seeds!
So–what about those roots still in the ground?
Wishful thinking. Weeds need no help surviving winter; and only clear plastic stretched tight over a perfectly prepared area for an entire summer can kill weed seeds. It’s called ‘soil solarization’, and this description of the proper technique is not my opinion; it’s the only way that diligent researchers got it to work. (Here’s the details in a very popular previous Q of the Week .)
An alternative tactic would be to use the natural pre-emergent herbicide, corn gluten meal . Just as you would do with cool-season lawns, applying corn gluten meal at the rate of twenty pounds per thousand square feet in the Spring (when forsythia and redbud just begin to bloom or when the soil temp reaches 55 degrees F. measured four inches down) would prevent a lot of dormant weed seeds from sprouting. Heck—because those seeds are on the surface, ‘CGM’ might provide astounding control. (Be sure to apply as per package directions.)