A Word About Weeds

Nature abhors bare earth. That’s it in a nutshell.

People have been digging dirt and exposing soil since we started cultivating food in rows and organizing beauty to bloom. This process is not how nature intended plants to be grown, so it creates some issues. The main problems it presents are soil erosion, moisture loss and weed seed exposure. The tilling process also attracts pests and disease at a higher rate.

 

There are huge complexities involved with natural ecosystems that are very powerful. We all need to observe, be respectful and learn more about the interrelationships between plants and microorganism in the soil. When we interrupt the natural process by digging, tilling or using a hoe to chunk at the surface, we not only disturb the soil infrastructure, we also expose countless seeds that will sprout. This unnatural procedure is stressful for both the earth, and a gardener who despises weeding.

 

In any natural setting there will be many different species of plants growing together as well as layers of organic matter blanketing the soil. Bare ground will be covered if the natural process is allowed to proceed. The force is strong with Mother Nature. She will use all of her power to heal exposed wounds and luckily for us, she won’t give up.

 

Typically in Canada, nature mulches in October or November. Each leaf that drops to the ground, carries a season full of sunshine, air, water and minerals. The leaf litter will not only protect the soil surface but also feed the worms, bacteria, and fungi who will, in turn, create nutrient-rich composted soil.

 

Undesirable plants can take over our gardens, if we allow them to get a strong hold. The weeds rob the plants that we do want to grow, from nutrients, water and sunlight. The solution to repelling weeds in our vegetable gardens is to mirror nature’s example by either growing something desirable, or mulching the surface. Every inch of our gardens need to be covered to build a healthy and productive environment.

 

There are 3 kinds of mulch. A living mulch, organic mulch and inorganic mulch. A Living mulch is commonly called a ground cover. These are generally low growing plants that spread horizontally, covering the soil to protect it from erosion and water evaporation. A lawn is one type of living mulch. Organic mulches are formerly living materials such as grass clippings, leaves, straw, manure, wood chips, compost, pine needles and shredded bark. This is my mulch of choice because not only do they repel weeds and prevent evaporation, but they also feed the soil as they decompose.  Inorganic mulches include gravel, rocks, plastic, black plastic and geotexile landscape fabrics. Personally, I also include cardboard and newspaper in the inorganic category. I know that originally the trees were alive which created the paper products but after all the processing, glues, inks and dyes, I deem them inorganic.

 

One of the top arguments for using inorganic black plastic & black landscape fabric as a mulch, is that they heat up the soil by absorbing the suns warmth in addition to smothering weeds. Heating up the soil can be very beneficial for crops such as Tomatoes, Basil and Peppers but I don’t feel this plastic practice warrants the risk. Plastics & landscape cloths leach toxins to the air and soil (both during manufacturing and while lying in your garden) and unfortunately, they will probably end up in the landfill after a couple of seasons. An alternative idea for heating up the soil around nightshade crops, is to surround them with large, dark-colored stones which will also collect warmth from the sun then radiate heat at night.

This garlic patch was mulched in October 2012 when the sprout were 2″ high. The straw has protected the crop throughout the winter weather and prevented spring weeds from popping through.

My favorite organic mulches are grass clippings, composted leaves and straw. I find all are easy to obtain, usually for free, and are easy to apply around my vegetables. I add different types of mulch all throughout the year, making sure that any (if any) weeds are removed before placing on the new layer. Mulches keep the soil surface moist to protect organisms and shallow roots but most importantly for me, they almost eliminate the need to weed.

I’ve just applied a chemical-free grass clipping mulch around some herb starts and broccoli plants. As the rest of the seedlings mature, I’ll mulch around them as well.

I’ve added grass clipping mulch around these kale seedlings. As you can see, my soil is loaded with all kinds of organic materials. As soon as I plant more vegetables, the bed will get another mulch layer.

I highly recommend adding organic mulches to all of your garden spaces for weed prevention and many other benefits. Let me know which ones work best in your neck of the woods. Until then ….

✿ Be fruitful and mulch apply ✿

 

3 thoughts on “A Word About Weeds

  1. I have found pine straw to be a superb mulch. It is free in most places, easy to work with and doesn’t wash away like the commercially available pine bark does. Makes for an nice clean look, too.
    Shredded leaves and grass clippings mixed together have worked well, too.
    Or, since I am not a very patient person, I use my not quite done compost. Gives me lots of volunteer plants 🙂
    What type of grass do you have where you live that you can just either plant right on top of it, or turn the sod over? I have tried that a few times (even with layers of newspaper or cardboard underneath), but within about 2-3 years, the grasses would have come up from underneath and completely take over the beds.

    • Hi Dèsirèe,

      Thanks for your reply. I agree that pine straw (we call it pine needles around here) is an excellent mulch. Unfortunately, it’s not readily available here on the Canadian coast. Most pine trees are higher up the mountains and more to the interior of our province which recieves less maoisture. This rainforest grows a lot of cedar tree varieties and their shredded bark is a popular mulch.

      Wow, you must have some very determined grass varieties. Grasses that grow up through our raised beds are rare here. Our lawns are mainly fine bladed, shallow rooted, water hungry and die off fairly easily when flipped over or covered. The common varieties are Kentucky Bluegrass and Perennial Ryegrass. We do have a type of crab grass that is deep rooted and very resilent, so I try to remove those clumps completely when building new raised beds.

      Happy Gardening!

      • Hi Lynda!
        First of all: HATS OFF TO YOU, for all you are doing as far as gardening and taking the time and effort to share it with us! Your passion and ingenuity is inspiring!

        Yes, some places I have gardened (AR, TX) I have had to battle bermuda grass…the only grass that can take the sun and heat. I had it coming back up through 2 feet of solid CLAY! I had tried to plant a rock garden with the soil that was dug up when we planted a pretty big tree, thinking no grass can battle that. HUH! Mother Nature has a mind of her own. TWO YEARS is all it took…

        VA, NC, SC wasn’t quite so bad…Now here, in NV grass can only survive if you water the heck out of it, so we keep a very small patch as a luxury for the kids to play on…everything else is “mulched” with rocks. Yes, seriously. Don’t get much pine needles here either, so my mulch for my container garden is my compost.

        Keep up the great work! I absolutely adore everything you have done in your yards and will file some of the ideas away for the future, when we can leave this desert again (don’t get me wrong, this climate has it’s own beauty, but for a avid gardener it’s just a bit challenging, LOL!)
        Cheers!

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