Keeping the Garden Weed-Free

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As everyone is finishing planting their gardens, their attention turns to controlling the weeds. Unfortunately, this is backwards, we need to focus on garden weed control before the first seed is planted.

All this was brought to mind, after viewing a large local vegetable garden, where the gardener was focused on getting plants in the ground. Yet, weeds were growing on the earlier planted portion of the garden. This is a recipe for a weedy garden, because if you start with a weedy garden that is what you will end up with.

Mulches can be one of the easiest and most effective way to control annual weeds in the garden. Mulches control weeds by preventing sunlight from reaching the soil surface. Light is required for the germination of certain weeds, and light is required for the growth of all green plants.

However, before we can apply a mulch to the garden, the garden must be weed-free. If weeds are present, they must be removed by either tillage, shallow cultivation using a hoe or hand-pulling. For more information on types of garden hoes, check out this post.

When using a hoe, cut off the weeds just below the soil surface and the hoe must be sharp. To make sure that my hoe stays sharp while I am weeding, I have a good flat file nearby for keeping the hoe's edge sharp. As my grandfather used to say, "a smart farmer uses a sharp hoe".

When it comes to mulches, we have a choice between organic and inorganic mulches. I prefer organic, but then again, I have a large lawn and plenty of grass clippings for mulch. Do not use clippings from lawn where herbicides have been used in the past month.

If using organic mulches, keep the amount of mulch applied limited to 3 inches or less. Over-mulching can reduce oxygen levels in the soil. Crop roots require oxygen for growth. Besides grass clippings, other organic mulches include: bark, straw, hay, newspaper and similar materials.

The inorganic mulches include the black (or solid) colored plastics and geo-textiles. Black plastic does a great job of controlling annual weeds. The downside of this mulch is that water or oxygen cannot pass through it, so the garden soil may dry out if not monitored.

The geo-textile weed barriers are woven or spun fabrics that allow water and air to pass through. These materials are very effective controlling annual weeds. Their downside is the cost, which is more expensive than the plastics. The geo-textiles may be a better choice for perennial flower beds or landscape plantings where they can be left in place for years and provide a weed barrier.

Mulches as part of your garden's weed control program is a way to garden smarter and easier.