Using cardboard for weed control

bookjunky4life(5 Central IL)January 26, 2012

I am collecting cardboard boxes to use for weed control under straw in my veggie garden. I have one 60'x100' garden which is my main veggie garden and an additional 38'x91' veggie garden. As you can imagine this may require a lot of cardboard. I tend to plant rows as close together as possible because although I have lots of garden space, I also plant a LOT of veggies. I usually plant things like green beans and corn in rows about two feet apart. I like more space between my tomatoes, so like 3 feet between plants in the row. The boxes my MIL saves for me at her job are broken down already but tape, stickers, etc. are not peeled off. I plan on prepping my cardboard by each batch I get from her once a week. Would it be wise to go ahead and start cutting boxes down to 2 or 3 foot widths so they will be precut and ready to lay down in between the rows? If I try to do this all at once, its going to be overwhelming. I realize I may not get enough cardboard to do 100% of my gardens but if I could even do half, then I can lay just straw on the rest or at least keep up by hand weeding it. I weeded sometimes 6 or more hours a day, even on a work day where I am gone 9 hours, last summer and still it was overgrown with weeds. I made myself crazy trying to keep up. I do have some newspaper that I plan on using but it won't go very far in my huge gardens.

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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

I think that whatever you can do to reduce the labor in the garden will be a good thing. If precutting to 2 to 3 foot lengths will help, then by all means, do it!

We pre-process the cardboard we use by pulling off the tape and staples (address labels too, if they'll come off easily) and then break the boxes down so they're flattened. Since I do garden beds rather than rows, I don't pre-cut them, instead I use the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle, overlapping generously to prevent the sun from peeking through the cracks.

Then you just have to lay enough mulch over the top to keep the cardboard from moving. If I'm mulching a slope, I tack the cardboard pieces down with landscape staples.

Using the cardboard and/or generous layers (13 pieces) of newspaper should certainly cut down on your weeding!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2012 at 5:46PM
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Taking the time now to prepare that cardboard for use in the garden is simply a good use of your time. Now when outside garden work is at a minimum anything that you can do now will cut down on the amount of work necessary when you get really busy during the growing season.
I have, for many years, had good results controlling "weeds" in my planting beds with not more than 4 to 6 sheets, although certainly 13 will last much longer.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 7:35AM
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bookjunky4life(5 Central IL)

I guess more of my question was not "if" I should do it ahead of time but for veggie row gardeners, if 2 or 3 foot widths was the way to go. I figure on planting, say, my ten rows of corn and since I will know where the rows are exactly at that time, I will go ahead and lay down the cardboard even before they sprout and just leave several inches on either side. Should one layer of corrugated cardboard be sufficient?

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 11:46AM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

If it won't get in the way of you preparing your rows and sowing the seeds, then by all means lay the cardboard down now. Having some snow and rain fall on it will help it stay in place, plus get a head start on suppressing perennial and early-germinating weeds. Just make sure that it doesn't blow away--that wind can be a pain.

One layer of currogated (with a 2 to 3 inch overlap at the edges) is fine. I only do multiple layers when working with newspaper.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 5:08PM
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bookjunky4life(5 Central IL)

We get wicked wind storms here all seasons. I will be layering straw on top of the cardboard (because we live on the family farm and get free straw) but don't want to put the straw down until after stuff is planted so I will probably wait. However, it will save tons of time if the cardboard is prepped and in separate stacks by width and I just have to grab pieces and lay them down. I'm also thinking I might get my kiddie/doggie pool out and presoak the cardboard as I lay it. I think it will stay put better and be easier to wet that way than after its laid.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 5:43PM
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i saw in a homes & garden book that you can lay down wet newspaper and apply manure on top. its suppose to kill all weeds. i just did that yesterday so im interested to see if it'll really work. but i mean it might be easier than having to cut cut up cardboard since it seems like you got a lot to do.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 4:59PM
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I too find that the advantages of wide beds vs. row cropping can extend to the use of cardboard. That way, you can dedicate more ground to production and less to paths, effectively reducing to total number of square feet needed, or increasing the total amount of space for growing vs. walking. For your purposes, it would seem to make sense to fabricate a simple jig that will allow you to cut the cardboard to uniform widths - perhaps 12 or 18 inches - which will provide the ability to arrange it in whatever spacing best suits your plan.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 10:22AM
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bookjunky4life(5 Central IL)

mynewgarden - I would think that the manure would allow seeds to sprout in it? Also I do not know if I would want to walk or kneel in straight manure.

I cut the boxes into two or three foot lenths, basically two pieces per box, and separated by width by four categories: less than 19 inches, 20-23 inches, 24-26 inches, and 27-30 inches. I figure if the widths vary only by a few inches, it won't really be a big deal. I have straw only down around my asparagus and strawberries and it has pretty much kept 99% of the weeds suppressed.

bi11me - so instead of row cropping, you are planting things like corn and bush green beans in blocks? How do you reach to pick everything without walking over the other plants?

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 12:06PM
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I do wide-bed planting as opposed to blocks or rows, and I do not grow corn at all. My beds are 30". The paths between the beds are 12" (8" in the hoop houses). That is easy to reach across for me, and is in large part why I chose that width. For peas and beans, I plant multiple rows per bed, on either side of a 6' trellis, typically. The width of the beds allows me, in some cases, to inter-plant below those crops with a different crop. For me, the density of my planting makes weed barriers like cardboard unnecessary in most of my beds - even with such crops as pumpkins, which eventually need a lot of unplanted soil between each plant, I can use one short-season crop to fill that space until the vines take it over. I am very particular about planting in straight parallel lines, and my soil at this point is in excellent tilth,which makes weed control by shallow cultivation fast, efficient, and easy. My use of cardboard mulch is limited to the paths between my raised beds, but only for as long as it is necessary, and for creating new beds where the effort and timing of digging is best avoided.

Regarding corn, I don't grow it because it is not economically viable in my system, it is readily available from other local sources, and the attraction it provides to local wildlife is an encouragement I don't want to provide - in rural Maine, I have all the wildlife I need, thank you. However, if I were to incorporate it into my system, I would plant those corn beds as if it were a very long block, three staggered rows 8" apart on 12" spacing perhaps, inter-planted with bush peas and mache in spring, and possibly pumpkins or some kind of heat-tolerant green in summer, and maybe garlic or broccoli or turnips in fall. Without doing the math, I would guess that this gives me maybe a 25% advantage over your single rows on 2 foot spacing for corn, and a 100% advantage on all the other crops that grow in that same bed at the same time. By keeping the beds intensively planted and cultivated, and bare ground to a minimum, weed suppression becomes of limited necessity.

As mentioned elsewhere in these forums, there is no "right" way to do these things, what's right is what works for you. Being exposed to a variety of options, and more importantly, the reasoning behind those options, is how you will know which paths to explore. My methods are designed for the particular needs of a large market garden that is focused on high-quality and unusual varieties using organic techniques, and may not be the proper adaptation for a home grower with a very different set of criteria.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 1:50PM
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I have a Blueberry patch that is infested with Broom straw grass, which is 48 inches high & hides BB from 4 feet away.
I have a supply of thick boxes. I am thinking about using the
boxes, covered with leave,straw & dry grass.
This will cover the paths between the rows of plants.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 10:42PM
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Putting newspaper, or cardboard, down over "weeds" will deprive those plants of access to the sunlight they need to grow so they will die, mostly. To hide the ugly looking paper products we cover them with another material, that can be manure, compost, shreded leaves, straw, etc. which can provide a growing medium for other unwanted plants ("weeds"). However, these unwanted plants are growing in a medium that allows easy removal of the plant and its roots then the soil now under the paper would, usually.
Given that animal manures can harbor disease pathogens it would be best to follow the guidelines established by the Center for Disease Control, National Institute for Health, USDA, and others and not put animal manures in or on your garden withing 90 days of harvesting crops that grow above ground.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 7:27AM
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bookjunky, when will you put the cardboard down?
Let us know how it works.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 8:37PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Cut cut cut, tear tear tear, rip rip rip
"What are you doing, honey????"

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 9:03PM
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My Honey just stopped asking.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 9:11PM
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Eventually they just learn to accept it, but once in a while I still get "You brought home a truck-load of WHAT?"

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 9:28PM
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bookjunky4life(5 Central IL)

Hilarious! I told my husband he's not the only spouse that doesn't get our gardening obsessions.

Oh, and I will putting the cardboard in between the rows as I plant, which I usually start in April. Sometimes very early in April. I am working on prepping my second large batch of cardboard this evening.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 10:30PM
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bookjunky4life(5 Central IL)

I have peas planted and cardboard and "leaves" of straw laid on top.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 2:15PM
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Yes, I used lots of cardboard boxes and it did appear to work. Unfortunately, the box hasn't decompose completely after 6 months, I was thinking of just putting some dirt over it and start planting.


    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 6:54PM
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paulsiu, I used burlap bags(not woven plastic bags) to much the garden & the bags are rotten in 4-6 months.
Some grasses will grow thought the woven fiber, that is why I am using cardboard this year.
In the walk way, I am leaving the boxes whole(2 layers), but flat. I have a small pick-up load to start with.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 12:24PM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)
    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 1:20PM
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bookjunky4life(5 Central IL)

Interesting article. I keep picturing a newspaper cartoon with a taste test for termites and "Termites prefer cardboard over wood 3 to 1!"

The cardboard is working well so far. Some areas I only used loose straw but weeds are growing through it. Its bringing in a lot of earthworms which surely is improving soil structure. The cardboard is in narrow strips so moisture still gets to most of the soil. Everything has a con. Don't tell my husband about the termites though. That's one of the reasons he won't let me have wood chips.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 2:59PM
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IMO, L.Scott a kill joy & have heard on this site that not all of her studies are balanced.
Termites live in the soil, any untreated wood will feed them.
They are not going to leave my pine tree log border, just because you put cardboard in your garden. They need water & foods to live, if they dry out they are dead.
This came from the Pro's who killed the termites in my first house. Most invade from flying in in the Fall swarm, not from you compost or cardboard boxes, according to the pros. I have talked to.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 8:10PM
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Dr. Chalker-Scott is not always wrong nor always right. She sometimes seems to take extreme positions, but for good reason. Termites were found to prefer cardboard, dry, not moist, over wood chips mostly because the cellulose was easier to digest. If your soil does not have adequater levels of organic matter cardboard, and newspapers and landscape fabric, can inhibit the exchange of gases between the atmosphere and the soil Food Web in your soil. Soils lacking adequate amounts of organic matter generally will have a hard time exchanging those gases anyway because the Soil Food Web would not be very active, if even present and without that SFW there is nothing in the soil to promote that gas exchange.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 7:18AM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

I think this says a lot....
"One of the missions of this blog is to provide science-based information. If and when substantial research to the contrary is published, my recommendation about cardboard mulch is not going to change."

What is the point of research then?

Here is a link that might be useful: June 21, 2012 by Linda Chalker-Scott

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 5:59PM
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I can see some of the thinking that goes with the card-board people, even though most is not real card-board but kimmsr has a point about what that can do to soil.

I trying to put anything in the garden that did not come from a garden or farm. I use small bails, which in the mid-west with a little search can easily be bought for two buck each.

I never use loose straw or hay, except that which is left over after slicing the bail into squares about one to three inches thick depending on size of area or number of bales I have.
This will control weeds as well as card-board and recyle much better.
If the few weeds that pop up between the slices is a problem that one may have lazy streak that is getting a bit too large while at the same time a little wheat, oats or what ever is easily controlled most of the time.
I even used unthreshed rye bails and either cut or left the growing rye go for a look see.

I guess if one thinks dealing with card-board is easier have at it but it just seems odd as it is harder on the soil than the weeds.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 11:31PM
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