Over the last several weeks our weather has alternated between lots of rain and lots of sun. The tomatoes and broccoli are all growing like gangbusters, but so are the weeds. While we like to add as many of the “weeds” to our salads and saute as possible, there is simply too much chickweed and lambs quarters for even the most dedicated wildcrafter to munch. Aside from these more tasty “weeds,” we and the peonies are also vexed by less appetizing plants like wild morning glories and jewel weed. For these noxious plants the only solution is to yank them out before they smother out peonies or other purposefully planted members of the garden. While weeding a garden bed is an opportunity to meditate, when you have over-grown acres, sooner or later you will realize the truth that life if too short to spend it weeding.
There is another way, and we are not talking about Roundup or Preen. Products like these will poison you and pollute your ecosystem. Independent studies at universities here and in Europe site Roundup as lethal to amphibians and causes cellular disruption in humans. In our garden/nursery, we have always refused to use products like these. Just read the Preen warning label if you don’t believe us.
A good layer of mulch, applied early in the season does a fantastic job of smothering out almost all unwanted plants in the garden. Using organic material as mulch also helps to retain moisture in the soil during the hottest days of summer. The classic method used by organic gardeners is to first put down a layer of newspaper (at least three sheets thick) or cardboard and then some kind of organic material such as leaves, straw, mulch hay or grass clippings. As these layers of organic material break down, it will add a fine layer of compost to your soil. A new layer of cardboard will need to be added every two years for sustained weed smothering.
There are a few issues to be aware using the classic lasagna method. If you put down your mulch early in the spring, be aware of where your perennials or self-seeding annuals will come up so as not to smother them. Oak leaves make a fine top-dressing but will acidify the soil as they decompose. If you wish to counteract this effect, sprinkle lime on your garden bed before applying the mulch. When mulching your peonies or other perennials, its important to leave the soil around the drip-line of the plant free of mulch, this ensures that there is not excess moisture which can cause fungus to grow on your plants.
Another interesting option for covering the space in between your permanent plantings is to use a living mulch.
This year we began using low growing Dutch white clover as a living mulch. So far we have been very pleased with the results. It is dense and keeps most other weeds from growing through. The ones that do, are easy to pull out. The advantage of clover is that it fixes nitrogen, enriching and improving the soil.
We plan on seeding more beds with clover this summer. This white clover is a biannual, and we will not need to re-seed next spring. It remains to be seen whether it will self-seed or if we will need to re-seed ourselves.
We would love to hear about your mulching methods, as any gardener knows “life is too short to spend it weeding!”