Organic Weed Control in the Garden
by Dawn Lesley Stewart
My yard has a variety of garden beds, everything from flowers, hosta, and herbs to a huge vegetable garden. Controlling weeds is always a challenge. Since my yard is organic, I do not use chemically prepared solutions. Here are some weed control methods that have worked well for me.
I usually mulch the lawn clippings back into the yard as I mow. However, grass clippings also make a good weed barrier in my vegetable garden. For me, the key is to deeply layer the clippings. Persistent weeds may still manage to poke through the grass clippings, but there definitely will not be as many. The deeper the grass is in the garden bed, the more compact the clippings become, forming a bottom layer that is somewhat mat-like. When using grass clippings in the vegetable garden, after the growing season I turn them into the soil. The worms love all that organic matter.
Bark mulch comes in many varieties. This is a common landscape option for not only weed control but also as a decorative yard addition. If you have closely planted areas but want some weed control, then bark mulch is also easy to apply. However, depending upon the area, bark mulch might not be enough to act as a barrier from weeds growing up from the soil. You might need a protective layer of material beneath the mulch for optimum weed control results. Also make sure the bark mulch has not been treated with chemicals. Organic versions are available.
Before considering using newspapers as a weed control solution, check to see what type of ink the paper uses. Soy inks are safe and non-toxic. Layer the newspapers over the area where you don’t want weeds growing. Do not just use a single sheet of paper; six sheets works well for me (or three folded pages). Newspaper will blow away if not anchored. Dampening the paper helps weigh it down. Covering the paper with grass clippings or mulch is good way to camouflage the newspaper. Make sure your “covering” layer is deep enough so that none of the newspaper pokes through. Keep in mind, though, that weed seed can blow on top of mulch or other organic camouflage, and the seed might sprout. Paper degrades over time, so using newspapers is not a permanent weed barrier solution.
If you have boxes that need disposing of, consider using them as a ground cover to deter weeds. First make sure the boxes did not contain any materials that might harm the environment. Then cut the boxes into manageable pieces. Cardboard is thicker than newspaper and might be trickier to overlap. It will also need weighing down so that it does not shift. However, when the cardboard is covered with a concealing material such as mulch, the layering will not be as obvious, and the mulch will anchor the cardboard. I never use cardboard where people will be walking just in case the cardboard moves underfoot. The cardboard will eventually break down, and it will need replacing if continued weed control is necessary.
Weed Control Cloth
If you watch home and yard improvement programs, you have probably seen specialized cloth used as a barrier against weeds. When I added a new hosta bed and replanted a daylily bed, I used “weed control fabric”. The fabric comes in many sizes, usually in a roll. Using this fabric is easy and it has the added benefit of allowing air and water through the cloth while keeping weeds in check. Once the cloth is in place on the ground, I cover it with a good layer of mulch.
I use a mix of weed control methods in the vegetable garden. When I know an area is prone to stubborn weeds, I lay down a layer of black plastic. This thick plastic is colored black (like its name). Typically it comes in a 3- or 4-foot width. A pair of sharp scissors easily slices through the plastic if you need to customize its size. I smooth the ground as best I can before laying the plastic on the soil, and then I anchor the sheeting with rocks so that the wind does not disturb it. Since no mulch or organic material covers the plastic, there is slim chance of blown weed seed sprouting atop it. Black plastic is great for weed control and is easy to lift when needed.
While grass clippings, newspaper, and cardboard are the more affordable weed barrier options, a cloth or black plastic solution will last longer. I hope that some of these ideas help you and your beautiful gardens.
Happy Gardening !
Dawn Lesley Stewart has enjoyed organic gardening for over forty years, learning at a young age from her father. First love is vegetable gardening followed by her interest in butterfly and bee habitats. She considers her yard a sanctuary for birds and wildlife. Her writing has appeared online and in print and has won writing awards. Dawn is the author of Harriet’s Horrible Hair Day (picture book), Mist-Seer (paranormal novel), and her newest book 300-Plus Quilting Tips, Tricks & Techniques features over 35 years of quilting knowledge.
Copyright 2011 Dawn Lesley Stewart