Best plan for a weed-free garden? Weed cloth and mulch?

aftermidnight1April 10, 2007

We have two (soon to be three) 4X24 raised beds for our vegetable garden. We're hoping to eliminate weeding as much as possible. This year we are thinking about putting down a weed cloth and then covering that with mulch.

Having never done this, does this plan sound good: This spring, pin down the fabric, cut the cloth where the plants and seeds go, pin the cloth down out of the way with metal stakes where the seeds/plants go, sow seed/put plants in place, and then put down the mulch. And then in the fall, pull up the dead plants - put those in the compost bin, and then spread the mulch evenly over the beds to prevent weeds. In the spring, sweep mulch aside, pull back cloth, top dress with 1/4" compost, put cloth back down and repeat above, replenishing the mulch if necessary. Does that sound about right? Does this method make sense? Is 1/4" compost enough? Our soil in the garden is pretty good.

What is the best mulch to use? Would "AA" hardwood bark mulch be good to use? Would "A" mulch (courser) be better? A lady where we get our mulch suggested Coco Hulls. Good or bad? We have a rabbit fence around our garden, so no worries of our dog eating the hulls. How much mulch would we need to both protect the fabric and retain moisture?

Another thing, we usually put down soaker hoses. Would we want those on top of the mulch, or on top of the cloth, but under the mulch? I'm guessing on top of the mulch?

Will this plan work? Any problems with it? Thanks in advance for any and all advise/suggestions!

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Most of the "Weed block" fabric I have seen is too thin to work well and "weeds" in the soil grow through that fabric easily. Better would be newspaper (and these are free) covered with some material.

The mulch can be anything you want but again the material that is free is usually better, shredded leaves, and there are large quantities of them in Indiana, wood chips from the tree removal guys (usually free since they would otherwise need to pay to dispose of them), spoiled hay (that should be free). There is no good reason to spend a lot of money when there is so much free material available.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 6:54AM
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amateur_expert(z6 MD)

If you use weed fabric and then put mulch over it then as the mulch breaks down, the weeds will grow in the "soil" it makes on top of the weed fabric.

Have you checked into Square Foot Gardening? If you put weed fabric on the bottom of your raised beds and use the soil recipe they recommend, you will have few if any weeds. Get the All New Square Foot Gardening out of the library and check it out.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 9:33AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Skip the fabric, use the mulch.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 9:50AM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

Put it down, mulch over, pull up plants, remove mulch, remove fabric, apply compost, put the cloth back...

Sounds like a ton of work. My system is "plant, mulch, cut, plant, mulch, cut..."- works for me, but your weeds may be worse

    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 10:26AM
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I would think its a question of work load as well. I use the weed barrier in my large vegetable garden, in some of my orchards, and in some of the borders, roughly 10,000 sq feet in all, which is too much to weed and too much to mulch. I don't use it in the flower beds, there I can deal with the mulch and weeding. I'd think the best would be the newspaper and mulch cover, and then just turn it all into the soil in the fall, and start again in the spring. You can store boxes of accumulating newspaper outside all winter.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 11:26AM
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Thanks for the replies everyone! I think I'll go with the newspapers and mulch.

Would AA hardwood bark mulch be good for the garden once it decomposes? I just read somewhere "DonÂt use any kind of woodÂchips, bark or root; it will steal plant food from the soil." Is that true? To be honest I don't like the look of straw. What about pine straw? Is that good and is it expensive? I hear Wheat Straw is good, but expensive. Are Coco Hulls good? I bought three big bags of it last week to try out. The lady where we buy our mulch swears by it. She's the one that suggested my original plan, so I'm wondering??? Our garden is fenced, so no way my Goldie will get in there. They're kind of expensive, but she said they last a long time. I believe I read a couple post where people thought they were bad for some reason. Acidic perhaps? Would they be bad for tomatoes? Sorry for all the questions!

    Bookmark   April 11, 2007 at 12:14AM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

""DonÂt use any kind of woodÂchips, bark or root; it will steal plant food from the soil." Is that true?"

No. As long as it's mulch on top of the soil, rather than mixed in- it will not steal nitrogen.

Best bets for mulch: free mulch. Shredded leaves. If you don't like the look of it- put down a couple inches of shredded leaves, then a little of whatever you do like on top of it. Cheaper and just as effective.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2007 at 8:30AM
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As long as you use those wood chips as mulch, a mulch goes on top of the soil not in it, and you have a fairly healthy soil they will not "rob" the soil of anything. People that have that problem do not have a good, healthy soil so the soil bacteria they do have consume all the avialable Nitrogen and move into the wood chips for something to eat. Feed the Soil food Web and you won't have that problem.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2007 at 11:32AM
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Here are some very interesting articles I found regarding inherent problems with hardwood mulches - robbing Nitrogen and Artillery Fungus. Be sure to read about the Artilery (Shotgun) Fungus:

"Hardwood tree bark (oak, maple, etc.), even from large trees, contains a large concentration of cellulose that is not protected from rotting. Therefore, hardwood bark mulches, like ground wood from almost all tree species, rot readily and cause most of the nuisance mold problems in the landscape. The finer the product is ground, the more severe the problem can be! These materials are low in nitrogen content. The fine particles (less than 3/4" diameter) in such mulches cause nitrogen immobilization in soil. The microflora that decomposes the wood particles takes up the nitrogen required for growth of plants. The result is that the plant becomes starved for nitrogen. Some mulch producers screen all particles smaller than 3/8" out of high-wood-content or hardwood-bark mulches, which avoids most of the nitrogen immobilization problem.

The best way to avoid all these problems and bring about beneficial effects by mulching is to add nitrogen to woody and hardwood bark products followed by composting to lower the carbon to nitrogen ratio. Blending of grass clippings with wood wastes before composting is one way to achieve this. Addition of poultry manure or urea to supply 1.2 lbs. available nitrogen per cubic yard of material satisfies the nitrogen need also. Some landscapers add 10-15% by volume composted sewage sludge to hardwood bark or wood wastes, and this makes an ideal product that has performed very well in landscapes. These amended products should be composted at least six weeks. This process kills plant pathogens, eggs of insect pests, and produces a nitrified product that releases plant nutrients rather than ties up nitrogen. As mentioned above, the microorganisms that have colonized these products reduce the potential for growth of nuisance fungi and provide control of many plant diseases."

    Bookmark   April 12, 2007 at 3:47PM
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Your plan seems fine but I also wouldn't use the cloth. I do gardening for folks and cloth is a pain. Almost inevitably plants are changed, veggies rearranged, new additions, etc. Cutting holes in the cloth ends up creating a mess and defeating the purpose. Soil is disturbed and weed seeds sent to the top

Use good soil to begin with and a decent cover of mulch. The goal shouldn't be no weeds but a reasonable amount that can be managed with minimal effort. A couple of biggies pulled each day as you admire your garden.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2007 at 10:47AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

we reckon we've got a good system for no-weed gardening as we spend almost no time weeding it must be working.

newspaper is all that is needed it comes free and helps with ammending the soils as well.

you are welcome to check our garden methods on our site.


Here is a link that might be useful: len's garden page

    Bookmark   April 13, 2007 at 4:00PM
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I have a 1400 square foot garden and not 1 weed (Illinois). I till my garden September 15th. I plant around three pound of Hairy vetch(legume super nitrogen fixer). This sprouts and then goes crazy in the early spring, I then round up the entire crop of vetch May 7th and on the 15th put in my garden.
I buy several rolls of landscape fabric (cloth not plastic)for my walking rows(its cheap in the fall 3 bucks a roll)...I leave 12 inches in between each fabric for planting. I DON'T TILL IN MY PEPPERS TOMATOES ETC>>>only till your row crops!!!! Just dig a 2 gallon hole with a shovel and add some compost for non row crops!!! I put down wire u's made out of galvanized wire I cut myself to keep the fabric down (double the ends 6 inches and go through both layers). Then I set out my 20 6 ft high by 7 ft around tomato and 20 smaller pepper cages dig my hills etc... I then put a 6 inch layer of wood mulch (from the county or city) across my entire garden about 6 pick up truck full (takes me 1 whole day). I only put about a 1 inch layer across the fabric. Then I run my shaker hoses between all the rows.

Thats it...3-4 days of work and I am basically done until I till again in the fall. The only thing I do is watch my garden grow as the soaker hose is on a timer. I add liquid fertilizer through the soaker once a week starting July 1st (after the vetch roots and compost is used up).

The real work for us is canning the 500 lb of tomatoe's 150 pound of various peppers and making enough pickles to fill a 55 gallon barrel and harvesting the other crops.

This is also similar to the USDA recommended method... just look up USDA Hairy Vetch Tomato program on google or go to the link......Good luck

Here is a link that might be useful: USDA COVER CROP TOMATOES

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 1:54AM
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THe mulch and newspaper sounds good/ I will try spring 2011

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 10:24PM
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