As part of our Spring Spruce-up series, I revamped our entry porch on Monday, cleaned up a couple vegetable beds on Tuesday, and today I’m sharing five easy steps to control weeds in your garden beds and borders - and not just for spring, but for the whole year! That’s right, weed once, take these steps and you won’t have to worry about them again until next spring. In only a couple hours you’ll be done with most of the maintenance for your bed – all that’s left to do is water and enjoy the blooms.
What’s my secret? Well, I have a little method that I’ve written about before, but it bears mentioning every season because it’s such a time saver and it’s pretty much one of the reasons I have time to have shrub and flower borders throughout our yard. When I get all our beds done using this method, I have a lot less work for the rest of the year. Here’s proof:
This is one of our front borders that we covered in newspaper and mulch (we use purchased garden compost for our mulch) last summer. There are just a few weeds (which are easy to pull thanks to all the mulch), with more concentrated around the stepping stones. That’s because it’s hard to get the layers of newspaper in between the stones unless we lift them, and obviously we didn’t take the time.
As a comparison, take a look at the other end of the same bed:
We ran out of the compost mulch and never finished the bed – in fact you can see on the right where we ran out of the paper and mulch close to the stones. There are some plants in there, but most of the green “groundcover’ is little baby weeds, plus those “poppers” I can’t stand.
Don’t let this happen to your flower beds, follow these five easy steps to organic weed control and make your life easier!
Gather your materials.
- Garden tools like trowels and rakes
- Enough mulch to cover your area at least 2-inches thick (we like the brown color of a mulch our garden center calls “garden compost” which is about $18 a truckload, bark mulch and even straw work, too, but the compost has the added benefit of feeding your beds as it breaks down. It ends up being all the fertilizer my beds need most of the time)
- Newspaper (the secret weapon!) – LOTS of it. We collect newspapers all year long and use it up each spring. You can also use cardboard, but it’s thicker, so use it only in areas you don’t want any thing to grow (like under trees or between large, established shrubs). Paper grocery bags are good, too, cut and opened up, but newspaper is usually easiest to acquire.
Trim shrubs and perennials, then pull weeds. I like to wait until late winter-early spring to do this, as the dead growth helps protect plants from frost damage, plus provides habitat and seed heads for the birds. Plus, there’s no way I’d find time in the fall to do this with all the harvest coming in, but I like the bird theory better.
Try to get the roots of the perennial weeds (like dandelions), but for the annual weeds (like the poppers, aka, wild cress) just pull the biggest ones so that the paper can lay down flat. The layers will kill any little ones left.
Trim the bed edges by trenching a grass edge or cutting the grass near a permanent edge. This bed has cement edgers, but most of mine are just grass.
Start layering the paper, your secret weapon. Here are some points to remember when laying the paper:
- The thicker you layer the paper, the more weed-blocking it will do- I like to use 6 to 10 layers.
- Don’t use shiny, colored ads- just regular newsprint (which may have color, too- that is OK, just not the shiny paper)
- Overlap the edges of the papers a good inch or two- the idea is to not give an opening for the weeds!
- If there is wind, keep a hose nearby and spray the papers as you lay them to keep them stable before adding the mulch.
- If the ground is dry (like, you didn’t get to it and it’s already July…), water well first, and then spray the paper as well. The mulch will help hold in the moisture for that time of year.
- If you use soaker hoses, lay the paper under them.
Lastly, cover all the paper with mulch. The more you use, the better it will suppress weeds – a 2-inch layer is minimum.
Then sit back and enjoy how clean and tidy your bed looks – and will continue to look for months!
Note: You might be thinking, “What if I want to plant something later in the season?” Simply push aside the mulch where you want to plant, use a trowel to cut into the paper and bend it back (like a book cover), make a hole and place the plant in it. Tamp it down and replace the paper, tearing as needed to fit around the new plant and recover with the mulch. No problem.
This method can be used around trees, too, instead of buying expensive “tree rings” or using plastic edging (than invariably gets nicked with the mower…). Simply lay a LOT of layers of paper (10-15 layers) right over the mown grass in a loose circle, tucking the sharp corners in on the outside as needed. Cover with mulch, but don’t mound it up to the trunk. The tree pictured above was done last year, and you can see how it stayed grass-free all year. It needs another layer this spring to see it through the next year. Of course, you can give it a nice, cut edge if that’s something you like…I guess you can see which camp we fall in.
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