How To Prevent Weeds After Tilling And Keep Them From Growing Back

Weeds can be a recurring problem after tilling your garden. And once you’ve done all the hard work to remove them from your planting bed, it can be devasting to see new ones popping back up.

If not handled the right way, the new weeds can quickly take over and crowd out your plants, stealing their water and nutrients. And that’s not good for anybody!

So, How Do You Keep Weeds Out Of The Garden?

The best way to prevent weeds after tilling is a two-step process. First, we kill any existing weeds, then we prevent any new weed seeds from sprouting in their place.

This can be accomplished by installing a weed barrier, crowding them out with our garden plants, or planting a cover crop.

But did you know the time of year can greatly affect the method you choose?

In this article, we’ll walk through all the different ways you can prevent the weeds from taking over your newly tilled garden bed.

We’ll also discuss what time of year you till. Since this can affect the methods that work the best as well as the number of weeds you have to tackle before planting. 

What Time Of Year Should You Till Your Garden Beds?

man rototiller new garden bed and tilling under weeds

You can till your garden beds in the spring or the fall. The timing depends on what you plan to accomplish as well as your own schedule. 

Fall Tilling

Tilling in the fall is best when you need to add amendments to the soil. It takes time for the nutrients from compost or fertilizer to break down and spread evenly through your garden bed. So a fall schedule allows for enough time for this process to complete. 

A second reason to till in the fall is any weed seeds that were brought to the surface will be killed by the cold weather. This reduces the number of weeds available to sprout in the spring. 

Spring Tilling

Tilling in the spring breaks down larger clumps of soil and removes weeds, giving your new plants an easy environment to spread their roots.

The only problem with tilling just before planting is when the soil is turned over it may bring up the dormant weed seeds that are buried below. Once they reach the surface and receive light and water they will sprout. Then they will be competing with your new plants for garden real estate.

And we don’t want the competition. So before you plant, it is best to tackle the problem of the new preventing weeds just after tilling. 

How Long After Tilling Should You Plant?

You should wait at least three or four weeks after tilling to plant. This will give the weed seeds that were brought to the surface time to sprout so we can kill them.

We’ll also want to let the soil mature a bit to redistribute the nutrients we just unearthed throughout the garden bed. 

Preventing Weeds After Tilling In the Spring

keeping weeds of the garden in the spring

There are a few ways to keep the weeds from taking over your new garden in the spring.

1. Wait A Few Weeks and Re-till The Garden Bed

To avoid letting unearthed weed seeds from taking over your freshly tilled garden bed, we use an iterative approach. Till the soil, let the weed seeds sprout, then till again. Repeat this process until most of the weeds are gone. 

This can be done manually or with your rototiller. In small gardens, it is fairly easy to do manually. The weeds will not have rooted in deeply, so they will be easy to pull. You can also rake over the garden bed with a garden fork or manually tiller to scrape the weeds off the surface.

In larger gardens, you can use your rototiller and go back over the garden area. In order to suppress any weeds that may remain on the surface, apply a secondary method such as a weed barrier or heavy mulch. 

2. Install a Weed Barrier

strawberry plant growing in hole of landscape fabric

Covering your garden bed with a weed barrier prevents weed seeds from germinating by blocking sunlight and moisture. Common weed barriers include landscape fabric, plastic sheeting, and newspaper. 

Landscape fabric is an inexpensive and effective barrier for preventing weeds. You can purchase landscape fabric in rolls at your local home improvement store.

Cut the landscape fabric to fit the garden bed, and then staple it down along the edges of the bed. Add holes where you want to grow seeds or transplant seedlings. 

Plastic sheeting is sometimes also used as a weed block, however, it can also block rainwater from reaching your plants. To fix this problem, you can add a drip irrigation system under the plastic barrier.

A practical and economical way to keep the weeds down is to use newspaper. Newspaper makes an excellent weed block since it breaks down quickly and can be torn into pieces to cover the area you want to cover.

3. Adding a Thick Layer of Mulch

adding mulch around plants to keep down weeds

Mulch can be used on its own or over a weed barrier. It works in the same way as landscape fabric by preventing surface weed seeds from getting enough light to germinate.

Common types of mulch for the vegetable garden include straw, pine needs, shredded bark, or composted leaves. Apply about three inches of mulch to suppress weeds and prevent them from germinating and growing. 

Applying mulch is a simple process.

  • Rake the soil after tilling.
  • Apply a 3-inch layer of mulch over the garden bed. 
  • Move the mulch away from areas you want to plant.

Organic mulch has additional benefits in the garden. It prevents the soil from drying out and will break down throughout the season adding nutrients to the soil.

4. Crowding Out Weeds With Plants

square foot garden filled with plants

If you don’t want to use mulch or a weed barrier, you can crowd out weeds with strategic planting. Gardening styles like the square-foot gardening method use this method very effectively. And it’s a great way to maximize your growing space.

Plant your vegetables and herbs at their minimum spacing, keeping them as close together as possible. Weeds need sunlight to sprout. So if we shade all the available garden space with our plants, they won’t have a good environment to thrive.

This method works best when planting larger seedlings or fast-growing vegetables. 

Two Ways to Prevent Weeds From Growing After Tilling in the Fall

If you decide to till in the late summer or autumn months you have two additional methods to keep the weeds down.

1. Plant a Cover Crop to Prevent Weeds From Growing

field of clover

One method used by farmers and larger garden plots is to grow a cover crop in the off-season. Cover crops have several benefits to the farm, one of which is weed control. They can also reduce soil erosion and improve the soil structure. 

After the harvest season is over, a fast-growing cover crop is planted. Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Clover, and Rye are all popular choices since they grow quickly and are easy to remove at the end of the season.

Using a cover crop can reduce weed growth by 80–100% for the duration of the cover crop’s life cycle.

In the spring, the crops are turned over and tilled back into the earth. This introduces more organic matter and improves the overall health of the soil.

2. Kill Weeds Using the Sun with a Process Called Solarization.

plastic covering field to kill weeds

If you till the garden in the fall, you can kill the weeds will a process called solarization. Solarization is an easy and natural way to kill emerging weed seedlings. 

The process involves laying down a clear plastic tarp over your freshly tilled garden bed. The plastic traps heat and moisture underneath encouraging the seeds to sprout.

Once sprouted, the soil continues to heat up, but no new moisture can reach the seedlings. This kills any future growth. The best time to use solarization is in the late summer months when it is hotter. It takes about 2-3 weeks for the process to work.

Once all underlying vegetation is dead, you can turn it over back into the soil. Or remove it with a rake and dispose of it.

Are You Ready To Get Planting?

Tilling your garden is a great way to get ready for planting. But if we aren’t careful, the process can actually distribute the weeds throughout your garden bed. 

Weeds have the potential to quickly take over a garden bed, so it’s important we tackle them early in the season. The best time to get rid of weeks is right after tilling since we’ve disturbed their root systems and made them easy to remove.

Follow these seasonal tips and you’ll be well on your way to a weed-free garden. 

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