We gave up chemicals in the garden a few years ago, without much thinking about the challenges it would then bring! Above all, weed control and fertilizing. We found an easy solution to replace chemical fertilizers – composting (a post on that another time).
Weed control, on the other hand, has been an uphill battle. Weeds are never-ending. They are the one and only thing I dislike about gardening. Often, I end up giving up by the end of the season and letting them take control of the garden. But that only decreases yields and leads to more problems. This year I am determined to not let them win. So I’ve been desperately searching for some organic methods to controlling weeds.
Come to find out, there are lots of ways to battle weeds without chemicals. Here are a few:
Corn gluten – This is found in products like organic Preen. You sprinkle it on the garden before the weed seeds germinate for the season, and it keeps them from sprouting. However, corn gluten prevents all seeds from germinating – meaning your good seeds, too. I tried this one year without a ton of success. Maybe I applied it too late, or not frequently enough (you have to keep applying throughout the season), but I still had lots of weeds.
Black plastic – I have not yet tried plastic. Black plastic is definitely an effective method of weed prevention. However, you have to be careful with it. First of all, it attracts heat. Sometimes that can be beneficial, but if you’re not cautious, it can easily fry your plants. Also, it is an impermeable material, which prevents water and nutrients from getting through to your plants. If I get really desperate, I may try black plastic next year. But I’d rather use a method that actually adds nutrients to the soil.
Landscape fabric – Landscape fabric works similarly to plastic, but it is porous, so it does allow water and some nutrients to pass through. It’s not quite as effective as plastic (some really persistent weeds can still penetrate it), but it is a really good option. I’m using this in my perennial herb garden. The fabric will last several years, so once I get the garden weeded and the fabric laid down this year, I shouldn’t have to worry about it for awhile.
Newspapers – In our vegetable garden, we’re opting for newspapers to help control weeds. The newspaper will obviously break down over time, but it’ll add nutrients to the soil as it does. We’ll lay several layers thick of newspaper down across our entire raised beds, and then we’ll poke holes where we put in plants or seeds. This will be covered with a layer of mulch.
Mulching – There are lots of organic mulches out there that will actually benefit your soil as they break down over time. Grass clippings, wood chips, bark and straw are all good and common options. Just be sure to lay a nice thick layer (I always skimp and make it too thin, which doesn’t work to prevent the weeds from getting through as well).
Whichever method you choose, I wish you luck in winning the battle against weeds this season! (Notice I didn’t say “war”…even if you win the battle this year, they’ll be back for the fight next spring!)