Options For Preventative Weed Control
Weeds are one of the largest challenges in the home garden, so a combination of control measures is best. Cultural practices to prevent weed issues rely on removing annual weeds before they have a chance to mature and produce seeds. Likewise, perennial weeds may be physically pulled and should be completely removed to ensure that rhizomes (plant stems that can produce new weed plants) are not able to remain and cause additional problems.
Other practices that can reduce weed pressures in the home garden are mulching (discussed below) and appropriate uses of cover crops which can cover the ground and outcompete weeds. Solarization, or the heating of soil by covering with plastic sheeting, can also be a tool to reduce weed seeds and subsequent weed and disease issues. All of these tactics are presented in more detail in UT Extension publication W346-D, “The Tennessee Vegetable Garden: Plant Management Practices.”
Herbicides are not often used in home gardens because of the low number of products available to consumers and the challenge in using these products in gardens where many crops are being produced across several seasons. Some pre-emergence (applied before weed seeds germinate) herbicide products may be useful if application rate and timing are carefully followed. See UT Extension publication W245 “Common Herbicides for Fruit and Vegetable Weed Control” for more details. Post-emergence products are more challenging to use because of their broad range of activity and the risk of overspray or drift onto garden vegetables. Additionally, tomato plants are one of the most sensitive crops to herbicide damage and can be severely harmed by small amounts of herbicide drift that may not damage other nearby crops. Use caution in managing any nearby lawn or garden area where there is any chance that spray drift or herbicide residue in soil could contact garden tomatoes.