How To Weed Garlic
Weed Free Planting Location
If possible, it is best to plant garlic in a garden or field that is "clean" and has low levels of weeds. Areas with perennial weeds like thistles or quack grasses should be avoided if possible and planted in future years once the weeds have been removed.
Garlic is an incredibly poor competitor that requires constant weeding throughout the growing season. Weed pressure is one of the greatest threats to good bulb size and good yields. Ideally, garlic plants should grow in a completely weed free environment for the entire growing season. Many new growers don't realize how important this is and end up planting in a new location where weeds are not under control. This often leads to a difficult growing season with constant weeding and disappointing harvest that has small bulbs.
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Weeding early is especially important for garlic crops. Depending on the weed pressure of a particular garden or field, this can mean weeding between 5 and 8 times throughout the season. In a particularly weed infested garden or field, weeding may be required at least every 10 days for the first six weeks and then biweekly for the remainder of the season. In really clean fields with few weeds, weeding might only be needed 3 or 4 times during the whole season.
The lighter or sandy the soil, the less frequent weeding is needed. Also, the wetter the growing conditions, the more weeds usually start growing. At the peak of the growing season, weed flushes tend to arrive every time the garlic has been watered or rain has fallen. Weeding within a few days of the soil receiving moisture (even if the weeds haven't emerged yet) usually keeps the weeds under control without too much difficulty.
When weeding garlic, it is very important to be careful not to damage the garlic plant roots as they are shallow growing and can be fragile. Garlic roots that have been cut by weeding do not grow back so using caution is a good idea.
The easiest way to prevent damage is by cultivating when the weeds are still very small which makes the work much easier and helps keep the depth of the soil disturbance shallower. As weeds become larger, they require deeper cultivation in order to kill them and this can cause difficulty if you are trying to protect the garlic roots. If weeds become very large they should be cut just below the soil surface rather than pulled if their roots are intertwined with the garlic roots in order to prevent damage the garlic.
How We Do It
On our farm, we use a 3-point tine weeder that kills weeds when the are very small. We also hand weed the garlic using sharp blade hoes to do most of the work. We have learned over the years that weeding a field many times while the weeds are still very small versus a few time when the weeds are large is far less work! Weeding early and making sure a field is free of perennial weeds is key to our weed management strategy.