Could this be simpler? Mulching question

nikki717(7)August 9, 2014

I'm starting from scratch in our yard almost everywhere. As a mom of 2 little ones, my time is somewhat limited (ha) and I go long stretches without being able to give the garden any attention whatsoever. So here's my deal:

What was in the garden when we bought the house last year, I hated and we ripped up. Since then I've been trying to prepare the bed for some fall planting (dwarf conifers and a few small JM's mostly with a few other shrubs/maybe hosta and other green stuff).

My plan of attack thus far has been--
pull weeds out by roots, set them aside, level out soil and get the biggest rocks out. Then lay down several layers of newspaper, throw the weeds back on for nutrients along with some coffee grinds, eggshells and bagged compost and a sprinkle of lime (soil test said I needed it as I have a pH of 5.4 out there), then add 3-4 inches of pine bark mulch.

I used a similar method at our old house with good results but I just threw out the weeds. After reading up on it all here and learning those weeds have valuable nutrients, I've started to add them into my mix. Other new additions are the compost and lime.. at the old house I just newspapered and mulched.

Here are my questions.
1) I keep reading this is a good method "as long as the weeds haven't gone to seed" and I have no idea what that means. How can I tell if my weeds have gone to seed? After my last few square feet of this task were completed, a month has gone by and my weeds in the remaining area are huge again. I worked on it for an hour today and am getting nervous that I'm spending all this time getting these weeds up so I can include them in my layers and fearing that once some time goes by, they will all just come up thru the mulch and all this work will be for naught. My crabgrass is huge. I pulled some large dandelions by the roots and threw them out- no white puffy part so I figure for those that must be what "gone to seed" means but I'm not taking chances with them. What does it mean for clovers and crabgrass and other random things I can't identify?

Also-- if they are still good nutrient-laden weeds that *haven't* "gone to seed"-- am I wasting time pulling them up to put them in between the newspaper and mulch layers? I read that's the best order to go in but if I left the weeds under the newspaper instead, I could omit the entire extra (long and tedious) step of pulling them up to begin with. Whew, that'd be nice as I still have a long way to go.

It's been ages since I've even been on here and just typing feels good again. Thank you in advance, gardenweb gurus!

p.s. the pic is my beginning pic, I'll post some follow-ups now

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small progress

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 1:43PM
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little more progress.

You can see where I've pulled up the weeds on the right in prep for layering, and also in the background where the weeds are still intact. Throwing my newspaper and compost and mulch right on top of that sounds SO much simpler but I'm nervous to just do it...

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 1:46PM
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last one. Close-up of the intact weeds. Gone to seed? Safe to leave in my mix? Safe to maybe even leave in the ground?

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 1:47PM
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The crabgrass in particular reroots. It is best to leave it in the sun a few days, single layer, until it is truly dead.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 4:16PM
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Many of the plants we call "weeds" produce flowers that set the seeds while grasses, such as crab grass, produce seed stalks. Crab grass, after being pulled out of the ground and the laid back might send any roots attached back into that soil, although in some 60 years of gardening I've not seen that.
If you have not seen any flowers or seed heads on the "weeds" they have not "gone to seed". If they have pick off and toss out the flowers but put the rest of the plant back into the soil or compost. Some plants, if pollinated (dandelions), can produce seeds even if pulled from the soil.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 6:21AM
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Ok. So basically, keep doing what I'm doing, only remove flowers along the way. A few of my clovers have had little yellow flowers and I did throw them out, the whole plant though, now I will just pick off the flowers.

I have a ton of crabgrass I've left out there to die, I prob won't get back to it for several days now anyway so that's not going to hold me up on anything. I have so much that I just threw right back in already though, guess we'll just have to wait and see if it starts coming up. I wasn't looking for seed stalks on them, so that could definitely be an issue. Sigh.

Guess nobody was a fan of newspaper-ing right over the intact weeds already in the ground... I figured that sounded too good to be true!

Thanks for the feedback. It's coming along-- slowly but surely-- just gotta be patient.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 8:31AM
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If you put the weeds UNDER the newspaper, the seeds won't sprout very well and you can toss the whole thing on there.

You could put newspaper and mulch right over the weeds IF you chop them off at ground level first - flatten them somehow. Weed whacker, followed by several layers of newspaper and then the mulch.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 9:57PM
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I have, many times, put newspaper on "weeds" growing where I had or wanted a planting bed and those "weeds" died and contributed the nutrients they had to the soil. Understand that while this may kill off the top growth of some very invasive unwanted plants it may not have any affect on the roots and some of those may grow back.
Also keep in mind that seeds from unwanted plants can land in the mulch, germinate, and grow and that does not necessarily mean those unwanted plants from under the paper are growing back.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 6:21AM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

The 'little clovers' with the yellow flowers are Oxalis and removing the flowers will not control them. Nor will covering them with newspaper or mulch. They have tiny bulbils under the soil which can sit there for a very long time and pop up later. They need to be dug out.

Your bed is quite small and the soil looks potentially fairly good. Is is possible just to give it a good thorough digging over removing the weeds and their roots as you go? If you use a digging fork rather than a shovel it would be short work to turn the whole bed over. Then you could put your mulches on top knowing you had got out any perennial weed roots and broken up the soil to a good depth. From the picture it looks like a job that would take no more than a couple of hours, tops. Probably no longer than weeding and layering with paper and mulch in separate operations.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 9:09AM
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I'm afraid I might be a bit more confused now than I was before. Lazygardens, that idea sounds wonderful and very easy. This project was started in the spring and my husband has weedwhacked the area several times already when he thought I'd have time to follow up with my newspaper/mulching but then didn't. I've also gone out and dug the roots and weeds up a couple times, but none were so bad as it is now, and the job was a touch easier then.
Floral-- yes definitely oxalis, and there some w reddish leaves too that I assume is a different variety of oxalis because it's the same size and shape and it's roots really hold on like the green one. Out lawn is full of it too, along w like 10 other kinds of weeds (we had a lawn company come out for a report and estimate, sheesh--nothing we're going to be able to afford for quite some time so I'm going to work on it myself but that's for another post).

As for turning it all over, we did that too. In spring my husband removed 6 40-year-old yews that left gaping holes and the area was full of large roots and rocks so we turned it all over best we could to get out the biggest stuff, then I leveled it out. I even sprayed it all w vinegar before posting for help here and then felt like an idiot when I learned I killed all those "valuable nutrients". Well I didn't have to fret because they came back, about 3 weeks later. Then I watched a video recommended by someone here on another post, that made me question how much turning over I want to do. I have to admit, when I first started this I spring there were a lot of earthworms out there and now I barely see any. Maybe that's because I'm not digging down far anymore but I didn't used to have to-- hope I didn't kill em all off w the vinegar or too much turning over. Anyway now I'm trying to avoid stupid mistakes by asking here first but it seems like there are conflicting ideas so I don't know what to do.

The area may be small compared to most but it wraps around the house on the other side and over that way there's a good bit of lawn I'm pulling up first still to enlarge the bed and the truth is, whether it's small compared to most or not, it's more than I have time for. The luxury of spending even a few hours out there all at one time isn't something I have often with the little ones around. The other day when I posted was the first day I was able to stay out there that long in almost 2 months!

So what I'm beginning to think is, maybe those nutrients aren't important enough to warrant chancing all these weeds coming back. The soil must be good enough if it keeps growing them back so fast right? And as another poster commented when I was beating myself up for the stupid vinegar mistake, good enough to grow 40-year-old yews? Perhaps removing the weeds and tossing them will suffice. After all I'm still laying down a little lime and the bagged compost/eggshells/coffee grinds. Sigh.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 10:05AM
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eaga(7a Long Island, NY)

I think you are letting the repurposing of weeds as soil nutrients distract you from your overall goal, which it seems to me from your posting is to have a weed-free bed for your foundation plantings. I would cultivate the bed one more time, remove as many weeds as possible, and then add your soil amendments and weed block as you have planned. If you feel you must harvest soil nutrition from the weeds, perhaps you can compost them elsewhere, but not in your planting bed.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 10:47AM
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Yes I think you're right Cercis, thank you. I can find use for them somewhere else, surely and breathe a sigh of relief in the process. Too much pinging around in my head, hehe.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 11:12AM
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You want to put all amendments---including weeds---under your newspaper mulch. You can kill any weed if your newspaper mulch is thick enough. Stuff may escape the edges and climb back on top of the mulch, but newspaper is a very effective smotherer. If you put fertile material on top, it will support plant life.

I like a suffocating newspaper mulch covered with compost or leaf mold for pretty. It keeps weeds down, but needs to be replaced every year.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 11:28PM
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I use every cardboard box I get. I lay them flat right over the weeds. I also use newspaper, but I have found the cardboard boxes kill off the weeds. We moved to Florida from NY and I've never dealt with weeds like grow here. Yet the cardboard works.

I have cleared so many beds using cardboard, newspaper and free wood chips I get from tree services.

So far, so good,


    Bookmark   August 16, 2014 at 12:38AM
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Hi jane,
So you leave the cardboard down like that, nothing even over it? I've thought about using broken down boxes instead of or in addition to the newspaper but would've thought to still put a bunch of stuff over it. How do you keep it from blowing away? And how long til you pick it back up?

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 10:45AM
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No, Nikki. I put down cardboard and then put wood chips on top. This large bed was covered with cardboard boxes and then wood chips. I was lucky to get free chips from a tree company working on my street.

Here's the same bed today. You can't see the cardboard. I'd get in big trouble with the HOA and neighbors if we left the cardboard showing.

Here's a shot from 2 yrs ago when we first moved in. You can see there was no landscaping. We had to get rid of a ton of grass and weeds to make the bed.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 5:55PM
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Oh wow Jane that looks beautiful! Hope mine is *half* that improved in 2 years. Thanks for sharing, I love seeing pictures of everyone's gardens, especially in relation to an issue I'm having, ha. Very hopeful for me. : )

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 10:54PM
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The newspaper or cardboard provides an impervious sunblock so any "weeds" growing in the soil cannot get that sunlight they need to grow so they die. Newspaper or cardboard is not appealing to the eye and so needs to be covered with something that is, wood chips, shredded leaves, etc.
As you may have picked up some here do not quite understand that "weeds" by themselves may not be as bad as some would try to make you believe, although some can be even without seeds. Birds eat the seeds produced by many plants and drop them many places and they will germinate in many places and become what we call "weeds". That will happen even in the mulch you put down, so "weeds" are a way of life.
The simplest, easiest method of preparing that area for planting, in the future, is to cover it with enough mulch to deny any unwanted plants there access to the sunlight all plants need to grow. Then concentrate on adding adequate amounts of organic matter to that soil, then consider what to plant there.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2014 at 6:47AM
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