For a time many years back, I would become nervous every time I went out to my garden to weed. The weeds were so few that I feared something was wrong with the soil.
True, I had taken deliberate steps to create this condition, but initially it was hard to believe that results could so well bear out theory.
The first step in creating this "weedless" condition was to stop turning over or tilling the ground.
Buried in every soil are countless dormant weed seeds just waiting to be awakened by exposure to light and/or air. Not tilling — whether with a shovel, garden fork or rototiller — keeps those seeds buried and dormant.
Added bonuses to the no-till approach are preservation of valuable soil humus (organic matter), earlier planting in spring, more efficient water use and, of course, not having to go through the trouble of tilling.
KEEP THE SOIL INTACT AND COVERED
I now take great pains to avoid disturbing the layering that naturally develops over time in any soil.
I clean up old marigold plants, tomato vines and other spent plants during and at the end of the growing season by just jerking them out of the ground, coaxing out plants with large roots, such as corn, by first cutting around their main roots with a garden knife.
I also enrich the soil from the top down, spreading fertilizers and compost or other organic materials right on the surface. Most of a plant's feeder roots — the roots that benefit most from organic materials and fertilizers — grow near the surface anyway. And near or on the surface is where organic materials can also do the most good offering protection from the pounding of raindrops and the summer sun.
Still, there are always those weeds that arrive in the garden as seeds hitchhiking in with the wind or dropped by birds. Each year, I smother them by spreading a thin, weed-free mulch over the soil. The mulch of choice depends on the look I want, the plants and the soil.