Why You Should Weed Your Garden In Winter

Creeping buttercup is my arch enemy…

Wily, invasive and very tough to kill, Ranunculus repens is a perennial. It will outlive you unless you kill it. There are plenty of other weeds common in the vegetable gardens of southwestern BC, but you have a unique opportunity now to get the jump on this one.

Creeping buttercup can pop up wherever land is cleared and it particularly enjoys soils that stay wet most of the year. In dry conditions, it will set seed from bright yellow flowers. If the earth is waterlogged it sends out above ground runners like a strawberry. When the soil is warm and loose, it spreads along the surface with startling speed, especially after the soil is worked up. With long fibrous roots, creeping buttercup can also survive being chopped up. If you cut it in half, you’ll only have twice as many in a few weeks.

If you are lucky enough to have sandy soil you can get the jump on this pernicious monster now. A few hours of sunshine will warm and loosen the soil enough to remove the entire plant. Use a spade or trowel to loosen the soil about a foot deep around the plant with about eight inches of clearance. Gently shake the plant to get all the roots.

Use the same method to remove chickweed, another ground creeping denizen of disturbed soil, which your garden is. Taking chickweed out now will save you a lot of trouble later in the season. Each plant can set 15,000 seeds, according to the provincial government’s pest management website. Seeds in the soil can survive for 60 years.

If you have morning glory anywhere in your yard, I feel your pain. If it is mixed with sod, you have a big problem. If it’s in your garden, just as bad. Morning glory has roots that can run for 20 feet or more and even half an inch of root left in the soil will produce a new plant within weeks. I have covered morning glory with black plastic for two years without completely eradicating it. But all the sod died and that helped in my mission. Dig widely around the plant and follow every root as far as you can. They are long, slender and white. If you have a sieve, sift the soil as you go. Bag up the vines and roots and send them away with the trash. Do not risk your compost by adding morning glory.

There dozens of other common weeds that find their way into the garden and quite a few of them will set seed in March and April, so remove them now if you can. A few days without rain and a few hours of sunshine is all you need to get started. If you have clay soil it might take longer before your soil softens, or it may never soften without help. You can use an old trick.

Cultivate your garden soil as soon as it is warm and dry enough, especially if the weather is expected to be warm for the week to come. Use a tiller or a hoe, whatever your preference. Some people never till and that’s their right.

Unless I have a heavy cover crop I tend to stick with the hoe. If you have an aversion to tilling, you’ll need to dig down more than four inches to remove perennial roots.

Head out a week after you cultivate — preferably on a warm, dry day — and dig out everything that is sprouting from the loosened soil.

I have a rolling plastic barrel composter that gets very hot inside that I use to destroy weeds before adding them to my compost. I have also been known to spread them on black plastic in the sun for a few weeks, until they are completely brown. Just make sure they are dead.

Summer weeding is a whole different ball game. More on that later.

from Randy Shore, the Green Man