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Controlling Annual Weeds in the Lawn and Garden

without using chemicals

Annual weeds are, by far, easier to control than their perennial counterparts.
Annual weeds persist from year to year by a rapid life cycle from seed, to flower, to seed again. With some varieties, this cycle may repeat itself several times during a single growing season.

Preventing New Weeds from Growing

Each weed seed has the ability to produce a plant which will flower and produce hundreds (if not thousands) of new seeds in as little as two to three weeks.
With equal speed these seeds ripen, and are quickly redistributed throughout the garden to begin the cycle again.
Luckily, it is relatively easy to stop this life cycle, by eliminating the weed seedlings BEFORE they have a chance to flower. Most annual weeds are easily spotted because the seedlings will suddenly appear in a cluster or group, near where the parent plant grew. Generally, annual weeds will have a fibrous root system which spreads just beneath the soil surface, unlike the fleshy tap roots of the perennial types. This shallow rooting makes them particularly easy to eliminate in the seedling stages. A few shallow strokes with a steel rake, hoe, or cultivator will usually be enough to uproot the seedlings. Once uprooted, to young plants will quickly dry out and perish.
If the weed population in your garden has gotten out of control, due to neglect and lack of maintainence, it will take quite a bit of effort and dedication at first, to regain control of your garden. This will be an ongoing project until a time when all of the weed seeds which are laying in the soil have sprouted, and the resulting weed removed.
Warm days and gentle rains of spring will bring on continuing flushes of new weeds, sprouting from the seeds of last falls crop, as well as the weeds of previous years.
Stew the Garden Gnome
Some seeds may lay dormant in the soil for as long as seven years before they germinate. Don't worry though, the vast majority will begin growing as soon as the weather warms in the spring.

Mulching to Control Weeds

The initial efforts you put into stopping these weeds will be the most time and energy consuming. The first thing to do is to use a cultivator to remove as many of the weeds as possible. If there are perennial weeds in the same area, they will need to be dug, to eliminate their roots.
Rake the area smooth, but hold off on adding any mulch for at least a week or two. This waiting time will allow for a lot more of the dormant seeds to sprout, and be easily removed. After the first initial flushes of weedlings, you should apply a good mulch layer over the soil, which will help prevent future weed sprouts.
Organic mulches are the best overall choice because they help build a healthy soil. However, in some cases it is more advantageous to use black plastic or a weed blocker fabric. (More help with mulching here)
At this point, you will now have a reasonable amount of control over any annual weeds in this garden. From this time on, however, vigilence will be critical, to ensure that any further weedlings that sprout are immediately removed before they have a chance to flower. Just a few rogue weeds that survive to flower and reproduce, can undo a lot of your best efforts. You will have to keep working at it, until all of the weed seeds which are laying dormant in the soil have sprouted, and the resulting weed removed.
This must be done before they are allowed to again flower and seed. Visit your garden every other day in the early spring, cultivator in hand, and in just a few minutes time, you can remove any new weeds which have sprouted.
Some seeds may lay dormant in the soil for several years before sprouting.
Inevitably, there will be the occasional weed that survives your eradication efforts, and manages to spread a few seeds your way.
A few of your neighbor's weed seeds may arrive courtesy of the winds, and visiting birds.
For these reasons, controlling annual weeds will always be an ongoing small scale project.
Each year will mark a noticeable decrease in the annual weed population.
In time, annual weeds can become a rarity in your garden.

For help with: General Weed Control
For help with: Controlling Perennial Weeds