Hmm. That’s a tall order. Weeds common to your garden are naturally suited to the sun, soil, and water conditions of this area. That’s why it’s so hard to get rid of weeds after they’ve taken root.

But if you prevent weed seeds from germinating, your garden can be weed-free. Here are some tips to keep weeds from growing in the first place.

If you were to track every hour spent in your garden, you would probably find that you do an inordinate amount of weeding. And while the first few weeks of tearing up these intruders can prove mildly satisfying, the chore soon wears thin.

Let Sleeping Weeds Lie

Every square inch of your garden contains weed seeds, but only those in the top inch or two of soil get enough light to trigger germination. Digging and cultivating brings hidden weed seeds to the surface, so assume weed seeds are there ready to erupt, like ants from an upset anthill, every time you open a patch of ground. Dig only when you need to and immediately salve the disturbed spot with plants or mulch.

Weeds ‘sleep’ in the soil all the time, just waiting for sunshine to help them germinate. If you leave them underground, many of these seeds will stay dormant for years. The inclination of many gardeners is to turn over the soil each spring, some even tilling with power tillers. DON’T DO THIS! The less you disturb the soil, the more likely weed seeds will remain asleep.

Your best approach to planting is to spread a layer of compost and sow your flower and veggie seeds and seedlings above ground in mounds of shredded leaves, compost or topsoil.

Smother the Seeds: Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

Don’t give weeds the chance to see the light.  Mulch benefits plants by keeping the soil cool and moist and depriving weeds of light. Organic mulches, in particular, can actually host crickets and carabid beetles, which seek out and devour thousands of weed seeds.

Some light passes through chunky mulches, and often you will discover—too late—that the mulch you used was laced with weed seeds. It’s important to replenish the mulch as needed to keep it about 2 inches deep (more than 3 inches deep can deprive soil of oxygen). In any case, you can set the growth of weeds way back by covering the soil’s surface with a light-blocking sheet of cardboard, newspaper, or biode­gradable fabric and then spreading prettier mulch over it.

Weed when the Weeding’s Good

Young weeds go down much easier than older ones, so make the most of good weeding conditions.

There is an old saying “Pull when wet; hoe when dry” and is wise advice when facing down weeds. After a drenching rain, stage a rewarding weeding session by equipping yourself with gloves, a sitting pad, and a trash bag or tarp for collecting the corpses. As you head out the door, slip an old table fork into your back pocket because there’s nothing better for twisting out tendrils of henbit or chickweed. When going after bigger thugs, use a fishtail weeder to pry up taprooted weeds, like dandelion or dock.

Under dry conditions, weeds sliced off just below the soil line promptly shrivel up and die, especially if your hoe has a sharp edge. In mulched beds, use an old steak knife to sever weeds from their roots, then patch any open spaces left in the mulch.

Lop off their heads

Chopping off weed heads feels good and you’ll reap short- and long-term benefits. When you can’t remove weeds, the next best thing is to chop off their heads. With annual weeds, dead­heading buys you a few weeks of time before the weed “seed rain” begins. Cutting back the tops of perennial weeds, like bindweed, reduces reseeding and forces them to use up food reserves and exhaust their supply of root buds, thus limiting their spread.

You will need pruning loppers to take down towers of ragweed or poke, or you can step up to a string trimmer equipped with a blade attachment to cut prickly thistles or brambles down to nubs. No matter which method you choose, chopping down weeds before they go to seed will help keep them from spreading.