Winter weed control

(Question)

Hi, we moved to a new house in December. The back and front yard has nothing other than weeds and seems nothing was even planted before. Also the soil doesn’t look great. I want to remove all the weed and add more fertile soil to my back and front yard. May i remove the weeds now in winter and prepare and add more fertile soil in March/April?? Or do I have to wait until spring to remove the weed. please help

(Answer)

Congratulations on your new house, and your (nearly) blank canvas on which to create a lovely garden.  You are on the right track in terms of amending your soil, which will help your desired plantings thrive, and will make it harder for weeds to grow around them.  You don’t say whether you are hoping to plant a lawn or a flower garden, but in either case, taking care of the weeds is your first priority.

Your soil will be too hard now to remove the existing weeds by hand, or to mow them, although these are two strategies for eradicating them that you could try in the spring, as early as the ground thaws.  Here is some advice from an earlier Toronto Master Gardeners post:

A weed is simply a plant that is growing where you don’t want it to. Different plants have different root structures and depths to which they grow. Some will grow laterally and sprout new plants at different nodes on the root. Some will grow shallow roots and some will grow very deep roots. Grasses often have 3-5 foot deep roots and bindweed or Canadian thistle can have roots that in some soils go down 20-30 feet!

The best way to dig out weeds is to do it when they are very small. If you do a lot of digging to remove the weed, you are often just bringing up to the surface new weed seeds that can sprout again into new plants. Small, young weeds are easiest to pull out without too much soil disruption so you might find that removing weeds on a regular basis is the best.

Also, remember that the tops of the plants are where the photosynthesis occurs and where all the plant’s energy is produced. If you are continuously removing the tops, eventually the roots will be so weakened that they will die. So if you have a larger weed, simply cut it at ground level without disturbing the soil. Also try to remove the weeds before they flower and set seeds for next year.

Another strategy is to smother your weeds, thus depriving them of sunlight and not allowing photosynthesis to occur.  This may be the best way to deal with your larger garden area, while at the same time enriching your soil: https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/askagardener/weed-control/.

This blog post has some photos that show exactly how this is done: https://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2013/05/how-to-smother-weeds-with-newspaper/

Finally, a couple of useful tip sheets on weeds and their management from the City of Toronto:

https://www1.toronto.ca/city_of_toronto/toronto_public_health/healthy_public_policy/pesticles/files/pdf/pesticide_managing_weeds.pdf

https://www1.toronto.ca/city_of_toronto/toronto_public_health/healthy_public_policy/pesticles/files/pdf/gardening_weeds.pdf