One of the many challenges of growing and maintaining a summer garden is weed control. If you are committed to natural and organic growing practices, the challenge is even greater. As a gardener who lives in a hot climate prone to many invasive weeds, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way to keep those weeds under control.
Cover the ground with a thick layer of mulch — it will go a long way in protecting your garden from weeds! It also helps to conserve moisture in the soil. Mulch consists of more than your standard wood chips purchased at the neighborhood home and garden store, though. Think creatively and use recyclable materials found around the house.
Cardboard is one of my favorites. Any cardboard boxes we receive through the mail are collapsed and used to smother weedy areas. I simply wet the area I intend to mulch, lay the cardboard down on top, wet the cardboard, and weigh it down with an additional layer of mulch material (see below), scrap lumber, or concrete blocks.
Thick layers of newspaper will also work in the same manner as the cardboard. Make sure to cover any “seams” as weeds and grass will take the opportunity to poke through them.
Hay, straw, and grass clippings can also be piled on cardboard and newspaper in addition to, or instead of, wood chips. If you choose to use hay and straw, it is best to make sure that it is free of seeds. In my garden this is not always possible, though.
Along with our flattened cardboard boxes, we use hay cut from our acreage to mulch our vegetable garden, and sometimes it does sprout unwanted weeds. But, I have found that if the mulch is thick enough, the weeds are very easily removed.
If you do not have a source of hay or straw on your property, spoiled hay (moldy hay unsuitable for feeding to animals) may be obtained at a low cost or for free. Grass clippings also make a great free mulch that can be collected after mowing the lawn. Again, make sure they contain as few seeds as possible, and only use if your lawn has not been chemically treated.
A standard home remedy for weeds is found right in your kitchen cabinet: white vinegar. It can be used alone or combined with a small amount of dish soap so it adheres better to the leaves of the weeds. Pour into a spray bottle and spray directly on the leaves of your weeds, making sure they are adequately drenched. For maximum effect, use on a hot and still day. Any liquid that lands on your plants will kill your plants too! (Ask me how I know…)
More than one application may be needed in order to fully kill the weeds. If you find that the standard household variety of vinegar is not effective enough you can upgrade to one that is 20% acetic acid. Use with caution, however! Even though this is a natural remedy it can cause injury to your eyes if it comes in contact with them. Also note that this type of vinegar is not edible so please keep it separate from the vinegar you use in your food. You can read here for more information on controlling weeds with vinegar.
Make Friends with Your Weeds
Many weeds, such as Lamb’s Quarters for example, are beneficial and can be used for medicinal purposes or served at the table as edibles. Others, such as clover, attract bees to your garden while adding nitrogen to the soil. Clumps of wild clover are encouraged to grow around our vegetable garden and avoided by the lawn mower. Learn how to identify these beneficial “weeds” in your area and use them to your advantage. Like these 3 common edible weeds!
Let Go of Perfection
Every gardener, myself included, most likely has a Pinterest inspiration board covered with an array of beautiful gardens we’d love to have. Let them go.
Inspiration is wonderful but keep in mind that many of those photos of immaculate gardens were planned months in advance, staged, and possibly even created by a staff of several people.
Those of us who have large gardens for the purpose of providing our families with healthy food need to find the beauty in just that. Take the approach of managing and keeping weeds under control as opposed to a completely weed-free garden.
What tips would you add?
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