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Hoeing weeds

Hoeing is best done when the weeds are very small seedlings or newly emerged shoots of perennial weeds. This allows shallow hoeing to kill the weeds without bringing new seeds to the soil surface. Shallow hoeing also reduces root damage to the crop. Stirrup hoes (shuffle hoes) are ideal for shallow weeding. A garden rake moved in an oval motion covers large areas quickly (e.g., the areas between winter squash before they begin to run). Traditional chopping type hoes are sometimes useful for hacking back weeds in untilled corners of the garden, but in loose soil they tend to dig too deep, damage crop roots and bring up more weed seeds. If the weeds are so large that a traditional hoe is needed, hand pulling or digging them out may be more efficient in the long run.

One objective of hoeing should be the creation of a dust mulch. This is a layer of very loose soil crumbs, typically 0.5 to 1.5 inches thick. It can be achieved with most tools that work the soil shallowly including a rake, garden claw or stirrup hoe. Weeds seeds need good contact with the soil for germination just like crop seeds. Since most individuals of most annual weed species emerge from the top inch of soil, maintenance of a dust mulch greatly decreases weed density. Obviously, a dust mulch is impossible to maintain during wet weather, but when it is feasible, a dust mulch is a highly effective weed management technique.

Crops that you expect to hoe should be planted with hoeing in mind. For example, sweet corn plants should be spaced sufficiently to allow your hoe to slide between the plants after the prop roots form. Planting cole crops using three rows to the bed and with the middle row staggered relative to the outer rows allows you to hoe in a cross hatched pattern that leaves few weeds left standing. Having hoes of several widths and types helps you match the hoe's action to the crop and situation.

Hoeing is best done when the soil is slightly dry and the weather is warm and sunny. First, such conditions are ideal for drying out uprooted weeds and producing a dust mulch. Second, the hoeing will do less damage to soil structure under such conditions than when the soil is wet. Third, hoeing in rainy, or foggy conditions is likely to spread disease, both on your clothing and by bringing soil into contact with crop foliage.