What's With This Weed Barrier Thing?
October 4, 2011 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Some more gardening questions! I know they'll sound kind of dumb, but we are total ignoramuses and could use the advice.

After reading the helpful responses to my earlier question, we've decided to go super low-maintenance and put in some ground cover (TBA) in the front yard and plant mixed region-specific wildflowers along the side of the house. Currently, there's a vegetable garden along the side that includes a weed barrier. The current renters are happy to take out the vegetable garden (tomato plants etc) and their plantings of flowers in the front yard in preparation for our arrival. (Just as a reminder, we're in Ann Arbor, Michigan). Here are my questions:

Should they also take out the existing weed barrier? My understanding of weed barriers is that they have holes cut in them for the specific plants that you have chosen for your garden, and so if you're going to be doing something new you need a new weed barrier. Is this correct?

If they need to take out the weed barrier, when should we put in a new one? We won't be moving until the end of November, and I've heard that you need to have the barrier in before winter even if you'll only be planting in the spring.

How do we install and prep the weed barrier for our wildflower plan? If we're just scattering seeds, it doesn't seem to make sense- nor does it seem plausible- to cut holes for individual flowers.

How do we then plant our seeds on top of the barrier? Do we just buy some dirt, spread it over, and go crazy with strewing seeds?

Thank you!
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
You use a weed barrier to exclude all plant growth from a particular area of ground. Usually you then cover the barrier in bark or gravel. People who want just a few shrubs or trees in their garden, but no ground-covering plants, often slash a cross-shape into the barrier so that they can do planting while keeping to low-maintenance aspects elsewhere.

I've never hear of anyone putting soil on top of a weed barrier. Weeds grow in soil, so you'd be completely defeating the object. If you're sowing wildflowers from seed, you need to sow them directly onto bare soil (unless you're starting them in pots, which isn't typical for wildflowers). You don't want a weed barrier there at all.

Knowing a few people who grow native wildflowers in their garden (admittedly in the UK, not the US), I wouldn't class them as low-maintenance at all, unless your definition of wildflowers is an overgrown mat of weeds.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:31 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Remove the weed barrier altogether. Using a shovel, dig up and turn over the soil that's currently there -- stab your shovel into the soil, lift up a chunk of soil, and then break it up with your shovel. Add some garden soil into this mix ... just dump out the bags and then do some more shoveling/breaking up of the soil until the old and new soil is mixed. Use a rake or your hands to break up any big clumps and smooth out the bed.

You may be able to find some nice perennials, such as coneflower, Russian sage, coreopsis, etc. on clearance now that you could plant. Then you could scatter seeds around them next spring. Mulch around the plants with 2-3 inches of mulch and this will keep the weeds down.
posted by Ostara at 6:35 AM on October 4, 2011

Also, it's the time to plant bulbs now! You could do your digging and put in some daffodil bulbs. Add bone meal and bulb fertilizer when you do this. Then you'll have pretty color right away in the spring.

Also, I agree with le morte de bea arthur -- using native plants is great, but a free form, meadow-like planting might quickly be overrun with weeds. I guess if you really want low-maintenance I would get black-eyed susan plants, coneflower plants and some clumps of native grasses. Plant these and mulch around them. They will seed themselves and your little patch of wildflowers will grow on it's own.
posted by Ostara at 6:41 AM on October 4, 2011

skip the weed barrier.
to further Ostara's advice if the space is large enough you should rent a tiller. Ask an expert (maybe the ag extension) what you need to add to the soil to enrich it properly. It might also help if you know what you are going to plant there.

Then as they said, plant some perennials in the fall. Hard to give a list as we don't know what the sun, soil, and drainage conditions are like.

The wildflower seeding idea is not going to look good without a ton of work. Those seeding mixes aren't really meant for the application you propose.

If you don't want to spend the time on a flowering border then think flowering shrubs + ground cover.
posted by JPD at 6:41 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If there's an existing garden, and you're planting wildflowers, I'd question the need for all the tilling/shoveling/soil-enrichment directives. Pull up the barrier, strew your seeds, mulch around the ones that grow big enough--I mean, it sounds like you don't want a big, formal garden, right? Just some reasonably attractive groundcover?
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:50 AM on October 4, 2011

I've never had any luck at all with those "mixed wildflower" seed cans and neither did my mother, who was a much more assiduous gardener than I'll ever be. Ostara has good advice - and good plant selections. To make the whole thing even simpler, I would suggest leaving the weed barrier and ignoring the entire thing until spring. In May - don't plant until after the chance of last frost, no matter how much you want to - put in coneflower, black eyed susan, daylilies, whatever perennials your local garden center recommends and maybe some sage and herbs (oregano and mint will happily take over any space you have and mint doesn't even care if there's water, sunlight or any wimpy stuff like that; it will just grow) by slashing some holes in the weed barrier and planting small plants, then mulching all around them. Planting from seed is a big pain and gives the weeds lots of time to get established, plus you can't tell them apart from the plants you want to keep when they're small. Give everything a lot more space than you think it needs; these plants will all spread out like crazy and by year two you'll have a nicely filled in garden that only needs watering now and then.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:58 AM on October 4, 2011

MrMoonPie is right, too - the plants I suggested aren't picky and you could just dig a few holes and put them in the ground without a lot of soil tilling and enrichment. Just keep them watered this fall -- they still need water while getting established, even if temps are cool.

Oregano and mint are good ideas, too! Catnip if you have cats -- it's in the mint family.
posted by Ostara at 9:59 AM on October 4, 2011

Seconding the caution about mixed wildflowers from seed. That's a big red flag for a weed infested nightmare. So much depends on what grows well in that particular spot that you almost certainly will not end up with a balanced mix. The plants don't all bloom at the same time and the things that are not in bloom will look like weeds. The ones that are the prettiest might never bloom in that soil; the plants might be a mix of annuals and perennials and you won't know what you've got the first year, maybe never. Those picture-perfect wildflower meadows are meant to be seen from a distance but up close--like the side yard--they will all look like weeds most of the time. Big weeds. And there will be actual weeds and grass mixing in.

Leave the weed barrier on and plant good perennials as suggested above. Before you start planting, lay out and mulch some wide paths and seating areas right on top of the weed barrier in order to walk through and enjoy the outdoors and reduce the planted areas. Select healthy plants and mix them in a seemingly random way if you want to achieve a wildflower look but I'd suggest you don't give that relatively weed-free space over to a mix of seeds and chance!

Another way to decide what to plant is to go around and look at things that are growing easily and happily in people's yards and plant those things.
posted by Anitanola at 10:48 AM on October 4, 2011

mygothlaundry writes "mint will happily take over any space you have and mint doesn't even care if there's water, sunlight or any wimpy stuff like that; it will just grow)"

If it's really dry mint won't grow. I've got a couple different varieties taking over the south flower beds at my place but they stop like you cut them with a knife right at the drip edge of my roof.

I'd plant a couple butterfly bushes in with your wildflowers or mint. They don't take much care, just normal watering and cutting back in the fall and I think they are pretty.
posted by Mitheral at 6:45 PM on October 4, 2011

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