For easy and effective weed control, return to the hoe | News, Sports, Jobs
I bet in the corner of your tool shed or garage there’s an old hoe leaning against a wall. A hoe that has not been used for a very, very long time, having been replaced by, perhaps, a gas or electric tiller, chemical weedkillers or mulch.
Hoeing is not very much in vogue these days, perhaps because it seems to demand what Charles Dudley Warner, in his 19th century classic “My summer in the garden”, says every gardener should have: “an iron back with a hinge in it.”
But hoeing is, believe it or not, an easy and safe way to control weeds. Maybe even easier than most “labor economy” methods that have supplanted it.
The reason for hoes, tillers, weed killers, and mulches is twofold: first, to control weeds, and second, to keep the soil surface loose so that rain can seep in rather than slide across the surface.
Chemical weed killers, which eventually provide a clear field for weeds that resist them, also do nothing to keep the soil surface loose. Straw, leaves, and other organic mulches keep the soil surface loose and smother weeds, but only if kept in a thick enough layer.
Motorized cultivators chop weeds and loosen the soil, but in doing so, they burn organic matter, ruin soil structure, disrupt beneficial earthworms and fungi, and damage roots.
Hoeing can have the same effects as mechanical tillage, but it would take more energy than most gardeners to compensate for the damage. Used correctly, a hoe does little damage.
Hoeing is simple, just grab the handle of the hoe. Compared to the time and effort involved in applying a weedkiller (mix it up, put on protective clothing, spray, then clean the sprayer), start the engine of a stubborn tiller, or haul mulch.
(Nothing against mulching, however; a thick layer of straw or compost covering the soil has many benefits. You just can’t hoe AND mulch to control weeds; it’s either one or the other, unless the mulch is a fine material like sawdust or well-rotted compost.)
You might have an aversion to hoeing because you used the wrong type of hoeing or allowed the weeds to grow too big between hoeing. Never wait until you see large weeds before grabbing your hoe. Instead, hoe the soil weekly or every two weeks, and as soon as the soil crust begins to dry out after each rain. This way the weed seedlings are killed before they get a good footing.
If weeds are endemic, the only type of hoe that will kill them is a standard large-bladed garden hoe, used with an unpleasant cutting motion. This hoe is useful for hilling potatoes or mixing concrete.
For working loose, weed-free soils, the best hoes are those with blades parallel to the surface, such as the different types of brawl (or “Dutch”) hoes, Hula hoe, collinear hoe and gooseneck hoe. These hoes do not cause excessive damage to the roots because, used properly, they graze the soil, loosening the soil only about a quarter of an inch below the surface.
My flower garden is in mulched beds of different shapes, but the vegetable beds are in long, straight rows where the soil is mulched with well-rotted compost. I hoe these beds with my favorite hoes, either a “winged weeder” or one “wire weeder.” The winged weeder has a V-shaped blade that looks like an airplane wing. The wings are sharp at the front and back and are parallel to the ground when I hold the hoe handle. The string weeder has a finely bent but strong wire, useful for close hoeing among small plants.
– Lee Reich writes regularly on gardening for the Associated Press. He is the author of several books, including “Weed-Free Gardening” and “The Pruning Book.” He blogs at http://www.leereich.com/blog. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.