Update for 2020: I still use this same method to expand my garden! If I skimp on steps (like no cardboard underneath), the weeds manage to find a way to grow! That being said- don’t beat yourself up if you don’t follow my method perfectly. Gardens are an evolving work in progress and should be enjoyed and celebrated 🙂
Are weeds getting the best of you and your garden? Ever wondered if there was a way to get rid of them? Is it truly possible to have a weed free garden?
Yes, it is.
But it will take some prep work.
Let me start you off with a story of my gardening history and then I’ll let you in on the secret 😉
My mom always had a garden. And we kids always had to help her. Which we hated, I mean, loved. Every year we had to clean out the chicken house, dump the manure on and then later put straw over that. It was a lot of work and wasn’t pretty at all!
In my early married life, I decided to have my first garden. Jeff tilled a spot and I happily planted in the dark brown luxurious dirt. And I grew a giant crop of… weeds. I blamed it on location.
So, the next year, we tried again, this time in our front yard. I figured if it was closer then I could take better care of it. The idea being convenience.
It was better, but I still had lots and lots of weeds!
I remembered my mom’s method of garden, so I tried that.
And I still had weeds!
And then a few years ago, I was introduced to lasagna gardening. You can check out this book for more details. The problem was adapting it to my situation for my fairly large garden. So after a few years of experimenting, I think I have it figured out.
CARDBOARD AND MULCH!
So, let me show you….
OK, notice all the highlighted areas. The green area was mulched the winter of 2016 (over a year ago) with cardboard laid down first, cow/chicken manure over that and then covered with a thick layer of straw. I grew potatoes in that area last summer.
The blue area was treated the same way in 2016 and then in January 2017 (this past winter) I threw on a super thick layer of leaves.
The pink area was mulched in 2016 with cardboard, cow manure and straw. It received a fresh layer of cardboard, cow manure and straw in January of 2017.
Now, look again at that green area. See all the weeds?? I have also found weeds popping up in the blue area with the leaves. But the pink straw area?
Not a weed one.
Here’s another picture of the garden so you can see how thick the straw is.
Here’s what you do to start a fresh garden or rejuvenate an old spot.
1 DO NOT TILL! Yes, that’s right. Do not work up your soil. All you do is invite weed seeds to sprout. And if you have bermuda grass (which I fight) you just make it mad and it will stage a hostile takeover of your garden!
2 If you do have a massive weed problem all ready, then either mow or spray the area first.
3 Lay down thick, heavy cardboard. I’m talking the good stuff. I saved tons of boxes from our remodel and used those, I used my brother-in-law’s from his house build, and my husband was able to get a whole bunch of cardboard from work. Just ask around- you’ll be able to find some.
4 After that put on a super thick (we’re talking 8-12 inches) layer of manure of some sort. Now, make sure this is old and fairly composted. A year old or more is good. I’m lucky because we have animals so Jeff pushes up big piles of manure/hay mixture every spring that accumulates around the hay feeders and then I use it the next year. Again, ask around and you can usually find a farmer willing to give it away!
5 Layer on the straw (or leaves). Do NOT use prairie hay! It will have weed seeds in it. Old alfalfa is good, too. Again, I’m blessed because we put up our own straw every year, so I always have a ready supply. Ask around for whatever is prominent in your area. Just remember, you want it THICK! No measly 2 or 3 inch layers. Nope, I’m talking a foot thick or so.
Ideally, you should do this in the fall so your garden has time to compost itself until spring. Because our falls are so busy on the farm, I usually don’t get to it until January.
I still have to pull the occasional weed, but they can barely take root and I don’t have to spend time “weeding” like I use to.
The key, though, is to be diligent about this every year! Nature will take back over (as you can see from my highlighted garden picture) if you just let it go.
But, if you do the right kind of work on front end when it’s cold, then when it’s hot and your garden is producing over abundantly, you can be dealing with the produce and not worrying about weeding it, too!
What gardening tips do you have? What have been your failures and successes in the garden?
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I really enjoyed this post Melinda! We did something similar our first year in our garden and enjoyed no weeds and great growth with our veggies. Unfortunately we didn’t keep it up and my garden is a weedy mess again 🙁
Thanks for inspiring me to do it again and keeping it up!
Thanks! And glad I inspired you!! I’m definitely not a perfect gardener (ha, ha!) but I enjoy experimenting 🙂
Do you plant though the straw?
Yes, I just pull the straw aside, either with my hands or a hoe, and plant into the compost underneath.
Thank you,I can’t wait to get started
So you are planting in 100% compost vs. soil?
Yes. I think this is why I don’t have many weeds, because I’m disturbing compost when I plant, not soil that’s full of weed seeds.
So none of the plant is beneath the cardboard or in the soil?
Yup, that’s right! Except for my tomatoes and peppers (I have a post on how I plant them, which requires a deep hole. If my compost isn’t deep enough then I will plant them below the cardboard). I plant directly into my manure/compost above my cardboard. The cardboard breaks down over time (especially if I laid it down in late fall so it had all winter to compost), so the plant roots will be able to get through the cardboard into the soil below as they grow. The cardboard acts as your main weed barrier. I put new cardboard down every fall,though, because of its composting abilities. After 4 years of this method, I have amazing garden soil (my original soil is pure clay and NOT garden friendly!) and my plants generally do well (baring any weather catastrophes).
Can I use this method in raised beds also?