As I mentioned a few weeks ago, one of the most important things you can do to ensure that your garden is successful is to keep your soil covered. Mulching around your plants has many benefits for your soil, including temperature moderation and moisture retention. Organic materials used as mulch, such as leaves or grass clippings, break down and add bulk and nutrients to your soil, in addition to providing food and habitat for soil life.
Today I want to talk about another major benefit of keeping your soil covered – weed suppression. Weeding is a dreaded chore for many gardeners, but with a little planning and front-end effort, it doesn’t have to be.
“Kill mulch,” or mulch that is used to smother weeds, can be used to establish new garden space or to kill weeds in existing beds at the end of the season. Any kind of organic material can be used (grass clippings, straw, wood chips, etc.) as long as it is piled high. Like 6 inches high! This will smother existing weeds and keep light from reaching any weed seeds that might be lurking in your soil waiting to sprout. The trick is, the mulch needs to be on your soil long enough to accomplish this, usually a few months. When it comes time to plant, you can simply rake the mulch aside and sow your seeds, or in the case of transplants, simply push aside the mulch and plant directly into it.
Farmers frequently use plastic as an inexpensive, effective kill mulch in the form of tarps or weed mat. Here is an example of a garden bed that has been covered with weed mat, in this case over the winter:
And here is what it looks like uncovered:
Those weeds are definitely dead! (Notice those squiggly lines? They are vole tunnels. Voles love the protection of tarps and mats, so look out for them – and the snakes that hunt them!)
With just a quick rake, this bed is ready to plant:
Kill mulch can be used to keep weeds out of your garden paths, as well. A few weeks ago, we posted this picture of giant rolls of corrugated cardboard:
I’m using this cardboard, covered with a few inches of wood chips, to keep the garden paths at Old Trail Farm tidy and weed free.