Photos of other people’s gardens can be inspiring. Or depressing. Either they manage to make one view weed free, they photoshop it, or they have full time help with weeding. This is not real life for most people. Even in the showcase gardens I have visited around the world, that DO have a full time staff, I have always seen patches of weeds. It is hard to keep up with those buggers! For the average home gardener, weeding is an ever present chore that can hang over you constantly.
This is the time of year when I evaluate many things about my garden. One of the main things is how to make weed control more manageable. I may be the odd one, but I actually like weeding, so it is not a matter of trying to avoid it. However, so far in our 20 years on this acre, I have never had a year wherein I was satisfied with my results at the end of the season.
It is this problem of weeding that most limits my happiness in gardening. Decisions about it have a big impact on both my enjoyment and my perception of success. Below is a list of my current goals and weeding tactics, some not as fully implemented as others, but at least weeding is NOT an all or none proposition. It’s not like watering, which has to be done a certain way and regularly or things won’t grow. Weeding is more like dirty laundry. It will always be there, and a person can only do their best to keep up. I have divided my strategy in pre-emptive, concurrent, and post-harvest categories. You will probably notice that some ideas can be used in more than one time frame, but I’ve place them where I will either think about them first or emphasize them the most. Not that it matters that much. It is all cyclical!
Pre-emptive or before most plantings:
1. Less tilling or turning of soil that brings weed seeds to the surface and stimulates them to sprout
2. Sturdier and more thorough mulching. I am going to try more scraps of cardboard and newspaper in some less visible pathways this year. I am going to let autumn leaves remain in some places. I am going to put down some more pavers in a few locations. If I feel desperate, I might go to the thrift store and get some cheap blankets for some places. Something I won’t use is straw, as I often find that contains wheat seeds.
3. I am going to get out to weed on warm enough winter and early spring days, since the soil in my raised beds is friable enough that it doesn’t freeze as easily as other places in the yard.
4. I am going to make better use of dense ground covers. Yes, like lawn, but also investigate some that don’t require mowing and are not invasive. (click here to read about my lazy method of planting grass)
5. I am going to think about reducing planting areas. One thing this means not necessarily filling every last inch of flower gardens, but mulching more in between. Trying to have such beds totally filled with flowers makes it harder to efficiently weed, because in my experience the desirable plants do not adequately block out the weeds, but trying to get to weeds that are mixed in with desirable plants is much more difficult. I did this already in a rose garden and it still looked very pretty and was much easier to maintain. It is oh, so tempting in the spring to fill all the empty spaces, but I have to keep reminding myself of the whole summer’s work load.
6. I will be more careful about checking pots from the nursery for sprouting weeds or stowaway weed seeds from the latest wind storm.
7. I will do more research before trying new landscaping varieties, to see if they fit my guidelines for invasive versus easy to grow plants.
8. I will organize my weeding equipment so that it is as little work as possible to get to it and put it away.
9. I will build chicken tunnels, so that the chickens can have rotations in different areas without being loose and destroying the whole yard.
10. I will create shade in some places, so that they are less hospitable for plants. Some of this could be done with low maintenance hedges or creative structures. Such places could be nice places to place a bench or unique non-plant garden features, like a checker board painted on a stone table or a fun patio.
11. I will try to limit places that bind weed can grow up fences. A more permanent chicken tunnel along the back fence is being planned to help take care of this.
Concurrent with active planting and growing:
12. I will space things so that I have reasonable access to be able to weed. The spaces between fences in rather deep flower gardens are problem areas particularly because of this.
13. I will continue to get better at target watering. This will mean digging up some sprinkler pipes and repositioning them. I think I am up to that this year. I will also fix leaky faucets. This may also involve setting up drip watering in more places.
14. I will continue to plant my raised beds for vegetables in a block fashion, leaving little room for weeds to get light between them. For some reason, I get to weeding my vegetable garden more frequently, so this approach works here.
15. I will work at maintaining better borders between grass and flower beds.
16. I will make progress on fence lines, where they interfere with lawn maintenance or collect trash because of odd connections.
17. I will continue to be careful about not putting seeding weeds into the compost area (which is mostly the chicken pen for me)
18. I will keep researching my backyard weeds, since knowing their life cycles and characteristics is motivating to dealing with them in a timely manner.
Post-harvest or after killing frost:
19. I will get more fall clean-up done before the ground freezes.
20. I will mulch with leaves as they fall.
21. I will get the chickens working on any raised beds that are not in current use.
22. I will use my chipper more to make mulch from wood and shrub debris.
One thing I will NOT be doing is what is being called solarization. It is being described as a great “organic” way to keep weeds down. What it really is is soil sterilization, which includes all good insects and microbes that are building up the soil. In fact, researching it has reminded me that I also don’t want to mulch with anything that will heat up and cook the roots of my plants.
Will all of this go perfectly for me this year? Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise! Yet, it is best to plan and try. If I have thought about things, I will be better able to take advantage of what opportunities there are for progress. I will probably use my time more effectively, too, because I’m not floundering around every day or week trying to problem solve one a large scale. That has been done and I just need to take some action. Just choosing one thing, even if it is in no particular order, can help ward off paralyzing feelings of being overwhelmed. Just check the list and do something. Every little bit helps. Every weed disposed of is one less to grow seeds for next year.