Are you fed up with spending all your free time weeding in your garden, only to have the area you weeded be full of weeds three days later? Would you like to be able to deal with the weeds once, with minimal upkeep for the rest of the season? Do you hate the thought of spraying harsh chemicals everywhere?
Here’s how to get rid of most of the weeds, and take back your summer.
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The Four Ways to Get Rid of Weeds
There are generally four ways to get rid of weeds: spray them with chemicals, spray them with a natural solution that usually doesn’t work that well, pick them for an eternity, or suffocate them.
Actually, there’s a fifth way: Accept the weeds as your new overlord and use the useful ones in salads, herbal teas, and salves. I am not that kind of garden blogger, but there are lots of lovely ones on the Internet who can steer you in that direction.
Anyway. I’ve tried all four methods, and the way I like the best and feel is the most efficient is to suffocate them. Best of all, it’s easy, requires little maintenance, and the equipment can be gotten for free or low-cost.
It can also be expensive, but doesn’t have to be. . .more on that later.
Want to feel better about the weeds in your yard? See the overgrown mess I started with, and how it looks now.
Use Mulch to Save Time and Effort in the Garden
Mulch is a material that is placed around a plant to enrich or protect the soil. In other words, gardeners put down mulch to suffocate weeds, retain moisture in the soil, and depending on the mulch type, add nutrients back into the soil.
If you’re using mulch in the vegetable garden, wait until the plants are a few inches high so you don’t accidentally suffocate them.
Once mulch is applied, any weeds that manage to creep through or grow on top will be extremely easy to pull out. Instead of weeding for hours on end every week, you’ll be able to weed for 5 minutes once a month, if that.
Multiple Types of Mulch
When you think of what mulch is, likely coloured wood chips come to mind. But mulch can be so much more! You can use:
- grass clippings
- wood chips
- coloured or natural shredded wood
- rubber chips
Each of these mulches has it’s own pros and cons. For use in your vegetable garden, I recommend grass clippings (as long as they’re fairly weed free), leaves, compost, newspaper with no colour, and any natural wood chip product that is not coloured. If you are planning a landscaping project, you can use whatever product you like.
Side note: While stone looks beautiful, you should also purchase a leaf blower if you choose that route. Over time, dirt, seeds, and leaves collect in between the stones, making your mulch look unattractive.
Step One: Pick a Mulch Barrier
To lay down mulch, you must first choose your barrier. There are 3 barriers that you can use:
- Landscape Fabric
You do not have to get rid of the weeds or grass first in the area you want to mulch if you’re creating a pathway. However, it is helpful and you definitely should get rid of any weeds if you’re mulching around your vegetables.
Cardboard and newspaper are both effective, free, and will decompose into the soil–perfect for the vegetable garden!
Step Two: Lay Down the Barrier
Using newspaper? Use at least 6 stacked sheets of newspaper and make sure the ends overlap. Water down the area and cover with a light layer of compost, soil, or other heavier mulch to keep the newspaper from flying away.
Using cardboard? Remove all tape and staples and make sure your ends overlap. Cover with another mulch. In this photo I’ve used natural wood chips. I love the result and the area has remained virtually weed free.
I much prefer the other two methods so I can easily change things up or just layer a bit more mulch on each year to keep the weeds at bay
Step Three: Lay Down the Mulch!
Not sure how much to use? Here’s a handy guide:
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I recommend using 4 inches. Anything less and weeds will be poking through in a month.
Last year I bought mulch in bags and was disappointed with how little an area I could cover with one bag. I cheaped out and spread my mulch out to 2 inches–only to have all my weeds and nuisance ferns pop right back out a few weeks later. However, mulch doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
Falling in love with my vinyl raised garden beds? Get yours here!
How to Save Money on Mulch
Landscaping fabric and bags of mulch from the store can quickly add up. Save money by using newsprint or cardboard as your first barrier. If you don’t have any lying around, grocery stores will often give you boxes for free. Make a quick call to a friend or post on kijiji and you’d easily have enough people offering you their old newspapers.
Grass clippings and leaves are free and many people would be willing to give you theirs if you don’t have a lawn or trees.
Tree removal companies often offer shredded wood mulch for free or low-cost. Just call ahead for a pick up time. Some will even deliver to your door if they have a tree removal scheduled for your neighbourhood.
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Common Questions About Mulching
Hurray! You’re committed to using mulch in your landscape or garden. Here’s what you still might be wondering. . .
Can I lay mulch directly over my weeds?
In short–yes. However, it’s much more effective to apply a barrier such as newspaper, cardboard or landscape first.
Do I really need 4 inches of mulch? That seems like a lot.
Four inches does seem like a lot of mulch, but you really do need that much. The only exception to this rule is when you are landscaping and you get close to a plant. In that case, you need to reduce it to 2 inches at the base.
When should I add mulch?
You can add mulch at any time of the year as long as any plants in the area you want to mulch are visible. A height of at least four inches is best.
Is it really as low maintenance as it sounds?
Pretty much! You’ll still have to pick out the odd weed or blade of grass, but it will come out easily.
How long does mulch last?
Unless you’re using rock or plastic “wood” chips, your mulch will decompose over time. Expect to top up mulches made with grass or paper at least once a season, soft wood mulches 2-3 years, and cedar mulch 5-8 years.
Will you use mulch in your garden? Where will you use it and what kind will you choose?
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Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots. She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden. She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.