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Pulling weeds

Pulling weeds is a last resort when other methods of management have failed, or when a few escapes need to be removed to prevent seed production. For some small seeded, slow establishing crops like carrots or parsnips that do not transplant well, hand pulling is sometimes necessary to remove small weeds from around the young crop. In the latter case, the amount of hand weeding can be reduced by sowing slow emerging crops in relatively weed free areas of the garden and preceding planting with a short period of clean fallow to reduce weed density.

The best technique for pulling weeds depends on the type of weed and the situation. Small weeds are easiest to pull when the soil is wet (i.e., too wet for tillage). Keeping your weight off of the soil at such times is critical, however, to avoid destroying soil structure (Stay of soil). To pull small weeds from among small, fragile crop plants like young carrots, place a finger on the ground on both sides of the weed and pull with the other hand. This holds the soil in place, and prevents uprooting the crop along with the weed.

Species with strong taproots are also easiest to pull when the soil is wet, but again, care should be taken to avoid trampling the soil. Also, the crop should be dry to avoid spreading disease. Grasp the weed by the top of the taproot rather than by the stem or foliage. Then slowly pull straight up with a slight twisting motion. This will break the feeder roots free from the taproot and allow the taproot to be pulled up whole. A jerking pull will tend to break the root. Removing most of the root is critical since the plant will resprout from dormant buds in any large pieces that remain in the soil. The resulting complex root system will be impossible to pull and you will have to dig to remove it. Maintaining a high state of tilth is critical for hand pulling weeds with taproots (Tilth & weeding). If the soil is moist, loose and has a good crumb structure, even large dandelions can be pulled whole. If the soil is not in good condition or is not wet enough or the weed is really large, an asparagus knife, long trowel or narrow spading fork may be needed to get the whole root. If the plant is so large that you have to hand pull it, it may reroot if the soil is moist or rain is expected. Also, if the plant is flowering, it may make seeds even after you uproot it. Consequently, carrying along a couple of 5 gallon buckets to use for removing the weeds from the garden may help reduce subsequent weeding. Weeds that are unlikely to set seeds can be left on a hard surface like concrete or boards until thoroughly dead and then composted.

Fibrous rooted species like annual grasses and plantains are easiest to pull when the soil is starting to dry. If the soil is dry and hard, the shoot will tend to break off, leaving the root system to resprout, whereas if the soil is moist, a lot of soil will cling to the roots. If the soil is moderately dry, hitting the root crown against any hard object will knock most of the soil off the roots. This will decrease likelihood of the weed rerooting if it is left on the ground and avoid exporting your precious topsoil if it is removed from the garden.

If a few weeds with spreading rhizomes or root systems are encroaching from the edge of the garden, pulling the shoots is more effective than hoeing. Hoeing cuts the shoots near the surface whereas pulling the shoot usually brings up a long white underground shoot. This depletes the underground root-rhizome system more quickly than hoeing. Canada thistle is one such species. Since the base and underground portion of the shoot is free of thorns, the plant can be pulled from this point without heavy gloves.