While this particular author is an advocate for eating weeds and appreciating them as plants simply doing their ecological duty, there is no denying that, in some instances, some plants are not a welcome sight.
The thing about weeds is that they are typically very successful, vigorous plants that can take over a space much more readily than, say, a crop of carrots or a stand of beans. When we are wanting to grow something specific to eat rather than eating whatever grows, even edible weeds can be a real problem.
With that in mind, it’s helpful to know natural ways of keeping weeds out of the garden, and oftentimes, the best methods are contrary to what has been happening conventionally for the last few decades.
So, forget the weed killers. Forget a daily regimen of pulling. It’s just a matter of taking the right approach from the get-go.
Step 1: Avoid Disturbing the Soil
Most gardeners turn the tiller every spring and get to the back-breaking work of turning the soil over in their garden. At first, this seems to get rid of the weeds that have sprouted up in early spring, but ultimately it has planted thousands upon thousands of seeds atop the soil surface.
Disturbing the soil this way invites weeds rather than eliminates them. Usually, the go-to solution then becomes to hit between rows and plants with a hoe, chopping in the next crop of weeds to sprout, and that plants more yet again.
Instead, we should leave the soil alone and dig small holes to plant our crops in. While some gardeners will worry about soil compaction and poor tilth. In reality, the long-term effects of tilling and hoeing reduce the quality of the soil in these areas.
- Do not till the soil.
- Do not use a hoe to chop weeds into the garden.
- Do not walk in the garden beds and compact the soil. Soil compaction is the main reason we feel the need to till and turn the soil.
Step 2: Mulch with Seed-Free Material.
Of course, weeds will come up at the beginning anyway, whether the soil is disturbed or not. Some level of weed pulling or suppressing must take place. During this time, the ideal solution is to mulch the garden heavily with organic material.
In terms of garden mulch, not all organic materials are the same. Materials—short grass clippings, straw, well-rotted wood chips, and autumn leaves—have far fewer seeds than others, such as hay or garden scraps.
Not only will these materials suppress new weed seeds wishing to sprout, but they will add moisture retention, fertility, and friability to the soil as they decompose and are pulled below by worms and other soil life. This is how to truly improve tilth.
- Pull any large weeds that have sprouted.
- Mulch with a few inches of weed-free organic material.
- Lay down a few layers of wet newspaper before putting natural mulch over it.
Source: Growfully with Jenna/Youtube
Step 3: Use Cover Crops/Green Manure
One of the worst things a garden can experience is bare soil. This can cause the soil to dry out in the sun and kill the soil life beneath the surface. Heavy rains can compact the soil. The light reaches the soil surface to germinate the seeds of unwelcome plants.
When the growing season is over, a lot of gardeners choose to plant cover crops in their gardens. These are aggressive plants like clover or rye that grow in cooler temperatures and can be cut down to use as fertile mulch—green manure—in early spring.
This method keeps the soil actively growing something intentionally rather than being left to what naturally wants to pop up, and it gives gardeners a head-start on mulching the garden beds for the next growing season.
- Plant green manure when the garden produces vegetable crops.
- Chop the green manure before it produces seeds.
- Leave the green manure on the soil as a nitrogen-rich layer of mulch.
A Final Tip or Two
Most plants need water to grow, and most methods of delivering water are imprecise and encourage the growth of the wrong plants. Sprinkler systems water entire garden beds and pathways such that most of the water isn’t even going to the right things. It’s going to the “weeds”.
- Don’t use sprinklers. Use precise drip irrigation that only delivers water where it is supposed to be. This conserves water and keeps weeds at bay. Mulching heavily, in addition to thwarting weeds, will all but eliminate the need to water, particularly in climates that aren’t arid.
- Companion plant your vegetables densely, using low-lying leafy vegetables to cover the ground around taller plants that leave bare soil. Filling the garden with desirable crops prevents undesirable crops from growing.
Lastly, a certain level of perseverance will be necessary in the beginning, but the payoff will be huge. The problem will become less and less as the process presses on.
- 10 Double-Duty Plants, from Weeds to Trees, to Help with Erosion Control
- Wild Edible Weeds: Mullein
- 10 Amazingly Healthy Plants That Grow Like Weeds
- Tips for Getting Rid of Weeds Without Petro-Chemical Killers
- What Weeds Are Telling Us and Why We Need to Listen
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