If you’re like me, you love to have a smattering of potted plants and garden space around your patio and yard, but you don’t love the weeds that come with them. Using pots and containers will help to keep the weed control chore to a minimum, but you still need to take some extra steps to prevent any weeds from popping up and competing with your valuable flowers.
Here are a few tips on how to keep your pots and planters weed-free.
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1. Mulch the top of the soil
Mulch is any material you spread on top of the soil to cover it. It can be anything from chopped-up leaves to bark chips to straw. Anything that will keep the sunlight from reaching the soil will work. My favorite high-quality mulch is wood chips that I get free from local tree trimming businesses.
Placing a layer of mulch on the soil right after you’ve filled the pot with flowers will help prevent weeds from getting enough sunlight to germinate.
Mulch is a multi-purpose tool to use in the garden. Not only does mulching help prevent weeds, but it also does these:
- Mulch helps keep the moisture in, which is vital in the summer when the sun is beating down and can quickly dry out potted plants.
- Organic mulches such as wood chips and grass clippings will break down over time, adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
- Keeping the soil covered with mulch will help keep the soil temperature consistently cooler, which is critical for some plants that prefer cool soil, such as sweet peas.
One of my favorite gardeners, Huw Richards, discusses how effective mulch is against weeds in this video:
2. Use a fabric weed cloth
Like organic mulch, covering your planters with weed fabric will help keep the sunlight from reaching the soil and prevent weeds from germinating. Also known as landscape fabric, this weed prevention method can be more practical than mulch in some cases.
- The weed fabric won’t blow away in the wind
- It won’t wash out in the rain
- Quality landscape fabric can last more than one season.
To use a fabric weed cloth, lay it over the top of the soil and secure it around the edges of the pot. You can use rocks, landscape cloth pins, or anything else you have on hand to keep it in place.
Be sure to choose a breathable fabric so your plants can still get the air and water they need. You can check the packaging to be sure you’re getting the right type, such as this roll of weed barrier.
You can find fabric weed cloth at any garden center or online. Be sure to get a heavy-duty fabric that will last multiple seasons, so the material isn’t a one-time use product.
3. Shade out weeds
Weeds and flowers alike need sunlight to germinate and thrive. If any weed seeds make it past germination and start to grow, you can shade them out with the strategic placement of plants within the pots.
You can create a dense plant canopy by planting small plants in large pots or groups of plants close together. For example, planting a tall zinnia plant in the center of the pot and surrounding it with smaller salvia plants will quickly fill in with foliage and flowers, preventing much sunlight from triggering the weed seeds to sprout. Any weeds that have already grown will soon be shaded out and die.
If you’re planning to have a single plant in a large pot because the flower will be the star of the show, this is a great time to use the mulching method mentioned above. The mulch will help prevent any weeds from growing while your one large flower grows to its mature size.
4. Use sterile, store-bought potting soil
Using a store-bought potting mix is the best way to ensure that you’re not introducing any weed seeds into your potted plants.
When you use quality potting mix, you can be confident that it’s been sterilized and doesn’t contain any weed seeds. Many companies even have a weed-free guarantee on the packaging, so you can be extra confident that your potting mix is weed-free.
Most potting mixes contain various materials, such as peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. These materials help to aerate the soil and improve drainage without harboring weed seeds.
If you want to make your own potting soil, you can still achieve a sterile mix with the right ingredients.
Sterile potting soil recipe
- 1 bucket (10 quarts) coco coir or peat moss
- 1/2 bucket (5 quarts) perlite
- 1/2 bucket (5 quarts) vermiculite
- 1/2 bucket (5 quarts) fine compost (purchased compost should be free of weed seeds)
- 2 cups fine sand
- 2 cups slow-release fertilizer
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and store in a dry, covered container until ready to use.
5. Avoid using garden soil in homemade potting mix
If making your own potting mix, don’t use garden soil in it. Garden soil is often full of leftover weed seeds, so using potting mix will help to prevent them from taking root. This is why you don’t see garden soil listed in the recipe above.
Sure, it’s easy to source, and it’s cheap, but you’ll pay the price in labor when you have to weed your potted plants all season long.
Not to mention, garden soil is often too heavy and dense for potted plants, leading to drainage issues. If it’s poor soil that you’re using, then you also have the problem of inadequate nutrition for your potted plants.
Better to save yourself the grief and start right with high-quality potting soil.
6. Inspect new plants before adding them to the pot
If you’re purchasing new plants from a nursery or garden center, inspect them thoroughly before adding them to your pots. You don’t want to introduce any viable weed seeds or seedlings into your potted flowers, so removing any that you see before planting is best.
A glance should tell you if any rogue plants are hanging in the nursery pot. If you spot them, pluck them out with ease. Inspect the soil carefully if you’re dividing up a large nursery plant. Any weed seeds that have hitched a ride in the soil will quickly sprout and take over the new, larger pot if given a chance.
7. Keep the area around the plant pots mowed
It’s all well and good to use sterile potting soil and mulch your pots to prevent weeds. But if those pots sit on a grassy lawn or garden area full of weeds, the weed seeds will eventually find their way into your pots.
Most likely, the weed seeds will blow in on the wind or hitch a ride on your pants as you walk around your containers to water them. To prevent this, make an ongoing plan to mow around your containers before the grass goes to seed.
Bonus, you can use those grass clippings for mulch for your potted plants or in your garden, completing the loop of weed prevention with homegrown mulch!
8. Pull weeds out as soon as they appear
This one seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. If you see any weeds starting to grow in your pots, pull them out right away.
Weeds can quickly take over a pot if left unchecked, so the sooner you remove them, the less chance they have to set down roots and take over.
While you’re at it, get rid of the entire root system so the weed doesn’t come back.
If you follow these tips, you should be able to enjoy your flowers without having to worry much about the possibility of weeds competing with your potted plants.