While there is still some time left before planting can begin in late spring, farmers and gardeners need to put some work into their beds ― and most importantly ― think about how they plan to combat weeds this season.

“This is a really important time of year to be planning about weed management,” Kate Garland, of University of Maine Cooperative Extension said.

Part of an ever-growing trend in Maine, more farmers and gardeners are looking for organic ways to remediate weed and pest problems in their gardens rather than using chemical herbicides and pesticides.

While there are microbial and organic solutions on the market that have been proven to work, Eric Sideman, of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said that the best way to combat weeds is good old fashioned preparation and getting your hands in the dirt.

“Basically, it’s learning how to use a hoe and getting the timing down, and what I mean by timing is killing the weed when it first germinates,” Sideman said. “Novice farmers tend to let the weeds get big until they’re big enough to pull, but really it’s hard to catch up to that.”

The primary thing to do in developing your weed management strategy is determining whether you’re dealing with annual weeds that germinate each year, or perennial weeds, which have large root systems and can grow back year after year if not handled.

To get a hold on perennial weeds, like dandelions or quackgrass, thinking a year in advance as to where your flower or vegetable garden will be located is the first step in controlling any weed infestations from occurring. If this forethought is possible, Sideman recommends, a gardener should get the ground prepared by tilling it up three or four times the year before, and planting it with a cover crop.

Another proven way to starve out the perennial weeds, is to place a tarp over the area you plan to have your vegetable garden located either the year before, or early in the season. By leaving the tarp on the thawed soil for two months, “that will essentially kill off all the plant life underneath it,” according to Sideman. “Lay it down now and take it off in about July, take a spade and a rototiller and it will be in really good shape to garden.”

“You’re trying to starve out your perennial weeds, never letting them grow big and starve out their reserves of food,” Sideman said.

When combating annual weeds from overtaking your garden, persistance is key. While annual weeds die at the end of each season, they produce a large amount of seeds that remain in the soil’s seed bank and can germinate each spring.

“There are some weeds that produce hundreds of thousands of seeds per plant,” Garland said. “If you do see a weed that is about to go to seed, grab it.”

Getting to the annual weeds just as the weed’s are germinating is when it’s easiest to kill them, Sideman said. So ideally, this means getting out into our garden once a week with a hoe and scraping the surface of the ground to disturb the roots and eradicate the annual weeds from growing.

Another way to handle annual weeds is to use a ground cover, such as mulch or straw. A ground cover method that Garland recommends in a garden is putting down a layer of newspaper, wetting it down, and then adding a layer of mulch on top, this will starve out the weeds growing below.

While there are several homemade solutions for herbicides, both Garland and Sideman do not recommend the use of these solutions in gardens because they have not been tested. That includes a common homemade solution to combat weeds — a water-vinegar solution — which Sideman and the Maine Board of Pesticide Control said is not an effective way to manage weeds in your garden. Like other homemade solutions, the vinegar-water herbicide is not selective, meaning it will kill anything it touches such as plants you are trying to grow.

Another drawback with this solution, is that the mixture only kills the plant matter it touches, so the root system below the surface remains viable and will likely regrow. Sideman said it’s much more effective to just manually eradicate weeds.

The Maine Board of Pesticide Control recommends against the use of any herbicides or pesticides that have not been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Typically, no controlled efficacy testing has been conducted on homemade pesticides. So homeowners base their selection of ingredients and application methods on trial and error or word of mouth guidance. This could mean that control is not achieved or far more product is used than might be necessary,” Anne Chamberlain, of the Maine Board of Pesticide Control, said in an email.

For potential pest problems, the most effective way to avoid harm to your plants is by covering your crops with a type of material that keeps pests off them, such as floating row covers. Sideman said there are also a number of organic insecticidal soaps on the market that are good for killing some of the most common soft body pests.

Doing research into what you’re applying onto your plants and into your soil is key, Sideman said. But there are plenty of ways to keep your pest and weed management strategies organic rather than settling on chemical-laden solutions.

“I think there are more gardeners out there now that lean towards the organic,” Sideman said. “They may use a commercial pesticide when something gets really bad, they may turn to a chemical fertilizer now and then, but for the most part they like being organic.”