Should you pull weeds before tilling? Or can you just use the tiller instead?
It depends on the type and age of the weeds you’re trying to remove and the tiller you’re using.
For seedlings and young annual weeds, you can skip the hand-pulling and go straight to the tiller. But for well-established weeds, it often helps to remove them first.
Pulling Weeds vs Tilling
Pulling weeds and tilling are both effective ways of killing and removing weeds. But there are times when it’s necessary to pull weeds because a tiller is less likely to complete the job.
When done correctly, the benefit of pulling weeds is that you remove all of the plant, including the roots. Removing the plant in one piece allows you to prevent it from regrowing. This is more of a concern with some types of weeds than others. Some weeds regrow from pieces of roots and rhizomes in the soil. And it’s important to completely remove the root system, or the weed will return.
Tilling doesn’t remove the weeds. It chops them up, kills them, and buries them in the soil. This is suitable for killing some weeds, but others might regrow.
Let’s take a look at the things to consider when deciding whether tilling can remove your weed problem on its own:
The Weed Type
Before trying to till weeds, you should identify the type you’re trying to remove.
Young annual weeds with shallow root systems are easy to kill by tilling the topsoil. Annual weeds grow each year from seed. And most can’t regrow once they’re dug up. So you don’t usually need to pull the weeds first. But some annual weeds can reroot from stem nodes if you leave pieces of the weed on the soil, such as chickweed.
Perennial weeds grow back each year from established root systems. And they’re harder to get rid of because they regrow from any pieces of roots and rhizomes left in the soil. Using a tiller to chop up perennial weeds will spread the root pieces. And because each piece can regrow into a new plant, it sometimes increases your weed problem.
Perennial weeds often need to be pulled, dug out, or killed using herbicide before you can till the area.
The Size Of The Weeds
Before deciding whether to till weeds, consider their size.
Depending on the type of tiller you’re using, the tine blades will chop into the topsoil around 2-12 inches deep. Larger, heavier, and more powerful machines, such as a rear tine tiller, cut deep into the soil. Whereas an electric tiller cultivator only tills the top inches of soil.
Small annual weeds and weed seedlings growing in the top layers of the soil are easily chopped and buried when you till. This benefits soil because the dead weeds decompose and release their nutrients, improving soil health and adding organic matter.
But larger weeds with well-established root systems make it harder to till. And unless you use a powerful tiller, the stems and roots can clog your tines and cause the machine to jump and skip rather than overturn the soil.
Have The Weeds Set Seed?
One of the drawbacks of tilling is that it can bring buried seeds closer to the soil surface where they germinate. So avoid spreading more seeds around your yard by carefully removing weeds that have flowered.
It’s sometimes a good idea to cut off seedheads and seed pods and place them in a waste disposal bag before pulling the weed out of the ground.
Should You Pull Weeds Before Tilling?
If you have large perennial weeds growing in the area, then kill or remove them before you till. Tilling on its own might only be partially successful, with the weeds sometimes returning in greater quantity. And if you have a less powerful tiller, the process of tilling the area will be smoother.
For weed seedlings and small annual weeds that can’t reroot, then it’s often not necessary to pull them by hand first. Using the tiller will save you time and effort, and the dead weeds will add their nutrients back into the soil.