I'm Really In The Weeds Here
June 2, 2007 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Help someone who knows basically nothing about gardening control a never ending growth of weeds

This year I decided to tackle the ridiculous weed growth in our garden flower beds and spent a few weekends digging out every single weed on my hands and knees. I ended up with nice weed free dirt and a plan to plant some flowers and tomato plants. However, a week later, I had hundreds of little weeds growing again and so repeated the process. I can't keep up though as every weekend, the area is covered again.

I read previous AskMe threads and know that I don't want to use Roundup because I want to plants flowers and vegetables (plus I have kids who play back there). Is there anything I can do to slow down the weed growth but not poison the soil? If it was just a few new weeds each week I'd simply pull them but it's literally hundreds of the little buggers.
posted by gfrobe to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you use mulch after you get your planting done? Or do you dislike it? You can also cover the area with a tarp for a while until you're ready to plant.
posted by dilettante at 10:50 AM on June 2, 2007

You can purchase weed barrier cloth and use that with mulch for really effective coverage. I don't love mulch but there are nice natural-looking (not dyed) versions that look pretty good.
posted by miss tea at 11:00 AM on June 2, 2007

Response by poster: I thought about mulch but it's a pretty big area to cover and I'm also not crazy about the look of it. The tarp might work but won't they just come back as soon as I take the tarp off?
posted by gfrobe at 11:02 AM on June 2, 2007

Mulch and manual labor.
That's the best way for a flower garden.
Thick mulch layers minimiza manual labor.
I've found weed barriers to be ineffective, though I live in Central Texas and fight Bermuda, so, grain of salt. Talk to gardeners in your area.

If you are insistent upon bare dirt, you could get a hoe and knock down weeds every weekend. Takes less time and stooping than pulling weeds by hand.

Or you could garden with native plants. By next year, you could have every inch taken up with growing plants that require little extra water. You'd only have to go through and pull out the invasive species or the ugly ones that poke their heads through the mayhem.
posted by Seamus at 11:03 AM on June 2, 2007

Mulch, yes. Weed barrier cloth ... I had a bad experience with. In theory, it should work really well. But weeds started growing in the mulch media itself, with their roots literally drilling down through the weed barrier cloth.
posted by frogan at 11:06 AM on June 2, 2007

A very deep mulch or weed barrier plus stoop labour is about the only non-chemical way to get rid of weeds. Resign yourself to it, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. if you choose perennial plants that are hardy in your zone in 3-5 years they will mature to cover the areas that are now filling in with weeds. consult with a reliable garden center about the best plants for your sun/shade mix, soil and area. In the meantime, put in annuals much more closely packed than the garden center tells you (most will tell you to plant typical annuals like impatiens and marigolds 8 to 12 inches apart, but you should plant them no more than a handspan for good dense coverage).

Here is what will happen:

For the next 3-5 five years you'll have to put up with a lot of stoop labour pulling weeds and adding mulch, planting dozens of annuals for fill, etc. After that time your mature perennials will keep the weeds at bay, and you'll just have to pull stuff basically as you walk through admiring. You might also consider talking to your garden center about less-toxic additives that you can use in the flower areas only (NOT around herbs, vegetables, ground covers or pets/children) if you are not absolutely opposed to chemical help.
posted by nax at 11:16 AM on June 2, 2007

Oh, just thought about this - squash plants. Strategically placed squash plants might cut down on weeds in your vegetable garden (or at least in some sections of it) as they mature, but you'd still have to keep weeding for a bit and you'd need to think the placement out carefully.
posted by dilettante at 11:26 AM on June 2, 2007

You don't like mulch?!?! Personally, I love the way it looks - always a nice, lush bed of brown. And it really helps define the beds. But besides the look, mulch is important for several reasons.
- It really helps with the weeds - prevents a lot of them from growing, and those that do manage to poke through are easy to pull out.
- Helps with watering. Stops it from running off immediately, and keeps it in.
- Contributes to the organic material you need in the soil.

About weeds... My experience is even after pulling a ton of them, you still have "maintenance" to do. And that can be a couple times a week for, say, 20 minutes each. But even still, mileage may vary. I recently had grass seed put down. Right before that, I spent several weeks pulling out weeds. Until there were NONE left. But after the grass was done, in two weeks I had LOTS of weeds again. Some that I had before, but now at least one new type. So, the first time I mowed it, I spent maybe an hour or two pulling up the new weeds.

Oh, and sometimes things are cyclical. This year I have a TON of oak saplings growing. Last year I had almost none. Go figure.

Good luck!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:40 AM on June 2, 2007

Weeds are good. Their roots hold the soil down when it is windy so the topsoil doesn't blow off and prevent the rain from washing all the soil (and your newly planted plants) away too. Nature won't allow you to have a bare patch of soil. Plus dirt is boring, who wants to look at dirt? I have lots of weeds in my garden, in the early spring I pull up the biggest ones, then I wait for my native plants (perennials and annuals) to get big and shade them out (most weeds want sun). Any that get bigger than the plants I have chosen for my garden get pulled either when I recognise them as ones I don't want or they bloom and I don't like their flowers. I have a lot of "weeds" growing that I keep because they are nice for the bugs or pretty to look at (butterfly milkweed for one example). If you just planted some perennials, and have bare patches of dirt while you wait for them to grow in the next few years, you can closely plant annuals in between the perennials to cut down on the exposed dirt. I like to use pansies for this because they like the early spring sun but need shading provided by other plants in the heat of summer. They are cheap here and bloom all summer long (I get icicle pansies that bloom through the snow too). You should take a look at square foot gardening (aimed at vegetables but works with flowers too) for more ideas on crowding out weeds with plants you have chosen. I'm a pretty lazy gardener; I choose native plants only, have a crazy cottage-style garden and let the plants engage in a Darwinian struggle for supremacy as I sit on my swing and watch. I also hardly spend money on my garden and rarely weed. Nobody has rung my doorbell yet to complain about my rampant garden.
posted by saucysault at 11:58 AM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

The addition of mulch to one of my beds last year has definitely cut down on necessary weed maintenance, and I didn't even pile it thick. Weeds still poke through, but not as many.

I know that some don't like the look of mulch. I do prefer the look of nice rich, black, loose soil, but mine is just flat, hard and gray. Keeping it rich, black, and loose would be *entirely* too much work for me, so that's why I started the changeover to mulch. Thankfully it provided the added bonus of far fewer weeds.

Also echoing what others have said about planting perennials (well, I never EVER plant annuals because why create additional yearly work for myself?) and just sticking with the weeding, and each year I think you'll find you have less and less to do.

Last weekend I wiped clean an entire bed at the back of my yard (50' x 10'-ish) that was thick and lush with several-foot-high weeds. Well, not quite clean; at some point I just couldn't bag any more so I hope to finish this weekend. Anyway, my plan is to pile it high with mulch this season, and then next spring pull up any new growth and keep it that way. I really can't afford any new plants right now so my main objective this year and next is to rid my property of things I *don't* want. But, none of this has anything to do with you or your question, sorry. Just commisserating on the seemingly unending battle against unwanted vegetation.
posted by iguanapolitico at 12:02 PM on June 2, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all. Looks like mulch is the answer.
posted by gfrobe at 12:04 PM on June 2, 2007

I garden for a living- I agree with everyone who says mulch. As far as I am concerned, weed cloth or landscaping fabric is a waste of time and creates unnecessary trash. Mulch is really one of the best things you can do for your garden and soil. It maintains constant temperature, helps minimize water use, shades roots, and helps create a nice zone of aeration, moisture and filtration for all the soil microbes that help your plants grow- besides helping minimize weeds.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:38 PM on June 2, 2007

There are different kinds of mulch for appearance. I like cocoa hulls, they have a nice brown earthy look and they smell like chocolate! I second also that well-established, thriving perrenials really choke out the weeds - it's just the bare earth patches for annual gardening that need constant tending.

Solarization (prepping the soil with a clear plastic sheeting) planting can help eliminate the first flush of weeds and other soil pests, seriously reducing the labor of that first prep. Of course subsequent seeding of weeds can't be helped.

Finally, let's not forget hoeing - just cultivating around plants with a tool, it doesn't eradicate the weeds but it does keep them minimized, it's sort of the classic non-chemical weed response besides mulch. Nothing ever gets rid of them entirely, that's why they're called weeds. Manage them and try not to let them go to seed. Getting hung up on Total Prevention will take all the fun out of gardening.
posted by nanojath at 1:30 PM on June 2, 2007

Lasagna Gardening
posted by loosemouth at 2:02 PM on June 2, 2007

Another vote for cocoa shell mulch.
posted by gimonca at 3:23 PM on June 2, 2007

Rototill thoroughly before planting. You can then easily rake out the weeds after rototilling. If you keep the soil loose during the growing season, it is easy to pull weeds. Either use landscape fabric between rows or use patio blocks.
posted by JJ86 at 4:36 PM on June 2, 2007

My two cents (mostly echoing others):

Roundup breaks down if it touches the soil, so it doesn't interfere with future planting plans, and is also reasonably non-toxic very soon after application (as soon as it's been taken in by the plants, a day or less). Although I'm strongly organically-inclined, I use Roundup.

"One year's seed is seven years' weed." Kill the buggers before they seed, but it's probably too late and your soil is probably full of seed from past years.

Digging or rotovating will bring buried seeds to the surface, so avoid digging if you can. Lasagna gardening sounds like a great method for no-dig gardening, and I'm definitely going to try it.

Mulch will help; cocoa hulls are lovely. Solarization will help even more, but you get to look at plastic for months.

Hoeing is very satisfying.

Nature abhors a vacuum -- grow something everywhere, even if it's just selected weeds. I hand-remove the weeds I don't want (poison oak, stickers, thistles, foxtails, etc -- anything nasty) but encourage anything else just to keep the ground covered. I'm gradually "weeding out" the most obnoxious weeds, and adding things I like. Timely mowing cuts down on weed self-seeding.
posted by anadem at 6:11 PM on June 2, 2007

Please decide carefully whether to use cocoa hulls if you have dogs (or if there are dogs with access to them). Google around for various opinions on their toxicity.
posted by iguanapolitico at 8:19 PM on June 2, 2007

Surprised that no one mentioned use of pre-emergent treatments in conjunction with mulch. I've had good success with the combination. Preen Organic pre-emergent is corn gluten that inhibits seed germination. I've been using Preen for several years and have just this year tested Amaze pre-emergent. They can't be used where you're planning to grow plants from seed obviously but they sure make weed control easier in shrub, bulb and garden areas where you're putting in transplants.
posted by X4ster at 11:57 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Grass clippings will do the trick just as nicely. Or a nice ground cover you can plough back in to the soil as you see fit could be handy?
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 4:59 AM on June 3, 2007

Grass clippings will do the trick just as nicely.

Grass clippings add a lot of nitrogen to the soil and also will form anaerobic mats if too thickly laid. A good stop gap, but use judiciously.

The idea of selectively letting some weeds go is a good one. I have wild phlox, wild campanula, creeping charlie, tiger lilies and other "weeds" that I can't identify forming a nice background against the neighbor's fence where it's hard to cultivate.
posted by nax at 6:26 PM on June 3, 2007

Just a note that I tried using one of those black weed killer mats to keep the soil that I had amended weed free until I had a chance to plant in it, and after about 5 days with the mat on some weird fungus had started growing underneath -- I don't think there was sufficient aeration going on under there. So be careful of the mats.
posted by onlyconnect at 9:00 PM on June 3, 2007

« Older Can I drink it without dying?   |   Creating Jen 2.0 Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.