Beating Garden Weeds with Mulch

Weeds in your garden can be a major issue, they can take over your whole garden if not kept under control. Garden weeds will steal the water and nutrients that your plants need to survive and produce great fruits and vegetables.

You can spend a lot of your hours digging and pulling out these unwanted weeds, or you can spend a little bit of time adding some organic mulch to your garden and stop picking weeds and add important nutrients as well.

Grass clippings for use as vegetable garden mulch

The Easy Option: Organic Mulches

Mulching is an excellent method of perennial weed control. It provides a barrier that keeps weeds well below the surface, where most will eventually die due to lack of sunlight. Mulches work particularly well around perennial crops such as fruit trees and bushes, but can be used with annual crops too. It’s not an instant solution, but it will help you to keep on top of weeds and does away with regular epic weeding sessions.

Landscape fabric can be used but is not, in my experience, a great idea. It’s a quick fix, but eventually it will need attention. The fabric will degrade and break up over time, allowing weeds through. Removing weeds that have their roots tangled up in landscape fabric is, quite frankly, a pain in the bum.

Organic mulches, on the other hand, are wonderful because they not only suppress weeds but help to build better soil over time. This gives them a clear advantage, not only over landscape fabric, but over digging out weeds too.

Newspaper mulch in a fruit garden

The first thing you need to do is put down a weed barrier. Newspaper is ideal (cardboard is okay too) as a permeable, completely biodegradable, soil-enhancing alternative to landscape fabric. Lay your newspaper five or six sheets thick and overlap them generously to avoid gaps that weeds could push up through, then soak it well. Cover the newspaper (or cardboard) with at least two or three inches (5-8cm) of loose, well-rotted organic mulch.

Well-rotted garden compost, manure, sawdust, shredded bark, leafmold, coir, or a mixture of organic materials, all work well as mulch.

Maintaining a Weed-Suppressing Mulch

It’s important to replenish organic mulches as they rot down. This does make them more work than landscape fabric, but you will be rewarded with rich, friable soil. Grass clippings or straw can also be used to top up your mulch. Add another inch or two of organic matter every couple of months, or more often if you like. For instance, once or twice a month I will spread grass clippings from mowing the lawn onto my fruit and vegetable beds.

Raspberries with grass clipping mulch

I won’t lie – occasionally a weed does force its way through. But not many! And any weeds that do make it through can simply be yanked out by hand. Don’t worry too much about getting every last scrap of root, as you’ll continue to mulch and keep weeds below the surface. Tearing off the top growth means the plant can’t photosynthesize, so each time you do this, the plant weakens. You’ll probably find that annual weeds germinate in the top layer of mulch, but a quick scruffle over with a hoe every week or two will see these off.

To begin with, avoid using tools to lever any weeds out of the soil, as you will risk puncturing the newspaper layer. In the second year you can start using a tool to help remove any really persistent weeds if you wish. A dandelion weeder, incidentally, does a stellar job of uprooting just about any weed I’ve encountered; its twin prongs get right under the crown of the weed and make it easy to lever it out with minimal soil disturbance.

Hoping you have a weedless garden.

 

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