By National Gardening Association Editors

If only gardening were just about planting and harvesting. Then we could plant our seeds and transplants, kick back with lemonade in the lounge chair, and return in a few weeks to begin harvesting flowers and vegetables. However, in order to produce top flowers, vegetables, shrubs, and lawns, you'll need to pay attention to your garden and landscape every step of the way. One of the key times to be active in the garden is in spring after planting is finished. Annual weed seeds, such as pigweed and crabgrass, love to germinate in bare spots and newly disturbed soil. Perennial weeds, such as burdock, are getting more rooted in lawns and shrub borders, and many different types of grasses and weeds are encroaching on your garden paths. It's time to take action! A little work now will save you tons of time and trouble later in the season.

Cultivate Before Planting

Cultivation doesn't start when the weeds start growing; it starts when yo prepare the seedbed or planting area for your vegetables or flowers. You'll need various hoes, cultivators, spades, and digging forks to create a good seedbed. Once the soil is turned and loosened, smooth the top few inches of soil with a rake or long-handled cultivator, creating a level seedbed. This is particularly important for fine-seeded crops, such as carrots and cosmos, that may have a hard time germinating through crusty soils. Keep the seed bed well watered for best germination.

Cultivate Annual Beds

Once the flowers and vegetables are up and growing, it's critical to keep young weeds under control. A little weeding each day in early summer will mean less work later, trying to battle a weed-filled garden. It means less time fighting weeds and more time picking flowers and vegetables. Using a cultivator or hoe, work the areas between plants. The best time to weed is a few days after a rain. The moisture will encourage the weed seeds to germinate, yet they will still be tender, weak, and easily damaged. Weed in the morning on a sunny day. This will ensure that any weed seedlings you cultivate will die during the heat of the day. Carefully work around young flower and vegetable seedling roots since they're also sensitive to damage at this early stage of growth. Cultivation isn't just for weeding. With a hoe or cultivator, hill up potatoes and corn plants. Hilling potatoes increases the yield of tubers. Hill potatoes once they're 6 inches tall and again 3 weeks later. Hill up soil around corn stalks every 2 to 3 weeks to prevent them from flopping over or "lodging" in the wind.

Cultivate Perennial Beds

Perennial flower gardens and shrubs also need periodic weeding. However, since you're not working the soil as much as you do with an annual bed -- which brings weed seeds to the soil surface to germinate -- perennial beds won't have as many weeds. Usually the biggest problem in more permanent plantings is perennial weeds, such as dandelions, burdocks, and quack grass. These weeds will need to be dug out, often by hand, removing as much of the root system as possible. Use a weeding and planting knife to remove these deep-rooted weeds. Mulching the area around shrubs and flowers after weeding will help prevent new weeds from germinating. Spread a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of shredded bark, pine straw, or bark chips with a draw hoe. Not only will this help prevent weed growth, the mulch will conserve soil moisture, make for less watering, and give the beds a neat and tidy look.

Cultivate the Lawn

Lawn weeds are commonly removed by applying herbicides. However, a safer and more long-term control is to create a healthy lawn where weeds can't get a foothold. Mow the lawn grass higher than normal, fertilize and water regularly, and remove dead grass to make your lawn an ocean of green grass. Use a lawn rake or scarifying rake in spring to clean out dead grass and aerate the lawn. Unless annually removed, dead grass can create a layer of thatch that inhibits the growth of the lawn.

Cultivate Paths

Paths made of stones, wood chips, brick, or other materials will also need yearly maintenance. Weeding your garden paths may seem like an odd concept, but often weeds will grow in between bricks on pathways or creep into paths from the garden beds. If not maintained, your garden path can turn into a weed patch. Hand pull individual weeds from mulch paths, maintain a clearly defined path with a lawn edger, and dig out individual weeds between pathway stones with a garden scraper.

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