How do you stop weeds from growing?
All keen gardeners out there already know what a nuisance weeds are and how much more vigorously they grow than our cultivated plants. The problem is how do you stop weeds from growing? Most of us prefer to steer clear of the nasty chemicals and sprays that are commercially used, and as a society we are leaning more towards using organic and natural methods instead. I have been fighting the endless battle with weeds for the last 30+ years of my life, and it goes without saying that along the way I managed to pick up some excellent methods for preventing the weeds from growing. These tips I intend to share in this hub so that others can benefit from them too.
Now to reiterate what I stated before, I prefer to avoid using those horrible chemical products to control the weeds in my garden. The main problem weeds cause to me are on my vegetable allotment, but the methods I use do work and don't cause any problems to the wildlife, or introduce any unnatural chemicals to the vegetables I intend to eat. Most of the tips in this hub will work equally well on flower beds or around shrubs and even for container grown plants outside.
So let's begin covering the best ways to prevent the weeds from germinating, growing and then causing you a problem. It is important to try to stop them either before they germinate or at the very least when they are still small enough that it is practical to control them organically. If they are already well established you will have to severely cut them back or dig them up before attempting the ideas in this hub.
I am a huge fan of mulching to prevent weeds from either germinating or growing. If a weed can't get any light or it can't push through the barrier above it will soon die. Photosynthesis is essential for any plants, and weeds are no exception. As the name implies photosynthesis requires light, and this process is how the plant converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, (especially sugars,) using the energy from sunlight. Mulching can be done with a variety of things, and all you need to do is to take the time to spread a layer of mulch around your plants so that the plants can still thrive but the weeds can't. I suggest the following mulches:
Straw (assuming you can find a sufficient amount for an inexpensive price.) Sometimes you can pick up inferior quality straw that has got damp or dusty very cheaply. Whilst this straw is no good for animal bedding it is ideal for mulching.
Well rotted cow or horse manure. You will get some weed seeds within the horse manure naturally, but they will be easy to pull out from the mulch as the seedlings appear. Cow manure does not normally have this problem because a cow has four stomachs (or compartments within the stomach) and the seeds are destroyed in the digestion process.
Pet bedding from vegetarian pets such as rabbits or guinea pigs, (make sure the bedding is natural and not made from artificial man made materials that won't biodegrade.
Spent (used) compost from last year. This will not have weed seeds in it and will make a good barrier to smother the soil around your plants. You will need it to be several inches deep to ensure the young weeds cannot push through it to the light above, and although weed seeds that land on it will germinate, they will also pull up incredibly easily (and the overall quantity of weeds will be dramatically less than if you had not used any mulch at all.)
Seaweed. If you live close to any beaches (and the local authorities have no regulations against it,) then gather as much of the seaweed that has naturally washed up on the sand as you can. Do not attempt to rip off seaweed that is still attached to rocks as this is no doubt still alive, (always stick to the heaps that accumulate naturally after each tide has gone down.) There is no need to wash the seaweed before use as it contains surprisingly little salt (and what there is will not be sufficient to damage your plants and will quickly wash away when the rain falls.) Spread a thick layer about 8 inches deep around your plants as it will reduce in volume by about 90% as it dries out. For about 24 hours it will smell quite strong, but this smell rapidly vanishes once a dry crust forms on the surface. As the seaweed rots down it will additionally feed your growing plants.
Grass clippings will work well as a mulch around your plants, and have the added bonus of solving the problem of what you do with them after you have cut your lawn.
Newspapers. These are a natural product because if you remember they are made from paper and this comes from wood. Spread them thickly around the plants and wet them down to make sure sheets of paper don't blow off the top. No need to screw them up, simply open up the old newspaper and lay it flat on the surface of the soil before damping it down.
Cardboard boxes. Flatten down old cardboard boxes as these are great, not only for using as a mulch around your plants, but also for making paths around and through vegetable allotments.
Old carpet is also brilliant for creating paths around and through allotments. It takes ages to rot down and stops you having to waste valuable time weeding the paths as opposed to the vegetables or plants themselves.
Wood shavings. If you can find a source of wood chips or wood shavings that come from untreated wood then they too will make a wonderful mulch. They will again need to be quite deep to be effective, and I would suggest at least 4 inches deep.
Weed suppressing membrane (although not something that will rot down,) is very helpful when used on flower beds or borders. Unfortunately it is not so much use on a vegetable allotment because you are replanting vegetables every year and would have to keep laying it again every time. One big plus for weed suppressing membrane is that it can be used under gravel or paving slabs on paths, or to provide a weed-proof floor for inside your greenhouse.
Well rotted home made compost. This can be made from your composted vegetable peelings, egg boxes, tea bags etc. Once well rotted it will add nutrients to your soil if used as a mulch, as well as improving soil texture and stopping a large amount of weed growth.
How to Mulch a Vegetable Garden
Remove the Flowers or the Seed Heads
This method is most helpful when trying to control weeds that are actively growing in your lawns, e.g. buttercups, dandelions and daisies. If you get to them before they release their seeds you will prevent a much bigger problem later on. My Stepfather periodically goes across his entire lawn removing all flowers and seed heads from these invasive weeds, and as a result his problem now is minimal and he doesn't have to use any selective weedkillers.
Not recommended on vegetable allotments or flower beds and borders for obvious reasons, but quite helpful when used between paving slabs on patios or paths away from growing plants. Salt is very cheap to buy, especially if you buy it in catering sized bags or in sacks. Trickle a fairly thick amount into the cracks between your paving slabs. The salt will initially burn the leaves of any weeds and as rain falls and the salt dissolves, the strength of the salty water will kill any remaining seedlings.
Grow Ground Cover Plants
Again this is not really suitable for a vegetable allotment as you would spend a good chunk of your time trampling all over the ground cover plants. However, ground cover plants are great on flower beds and borders as they don't grow very tall, are often very attractive to look at, and they remove the problem of having to weed between your larger flowers and shrubs. Try plants like:
Aubretia which is a very pretty ground covering plant with tiny attractive flowers.
Chamomile Lawn is wonderful as an alternative to a lawn or as a ground cover plant. It smells great when crushed so some people create garden seats and benches from wooden frames, surrounded by chicken wire and filled carefully with a moss lining followed by a soil filling. These are then planted up with Chamomile Lawn. The end result is that once established, when you sit on the 'seat' the slight crushing of the foliage releases an amazing apply fragrance.
Ground covering roses also work well for large areas of bare earth such as between larger shrubs, or to cascade down earth banks. These can also be highly fragrant and will suppress weed growth.
Vincas are again very attractive tiny flowered plants, usually violet but occasionally white. They spread readily but only grow about 8-30 inches tall.
Creeping Gardenia produces fragrant flowers, grows 1'-2' tall and is very attractive as ground cover. Each plant will grow 3'-4' wide.
Coral Drift Rose. This is quite a stunning looking ground cover plant which will grow about 1'-2' tall by about 2'-3' wide.
Creeping Jenny is purely a foliage plant so it has no fragrance. The plant will 'creep' up to about 2'-3' wide and will grow to a height between 0'-1'.
English Thyme has a lovely fragrance when crushed and will grow happily in a wide variety of locations around your garden. It has the added advantage that you can use it in your cooking of course.
These are a mere handful of examples of ground cover plants you might want to consider for your garden, but the list in reality is endless, and you can save many hours of weeding by simply filling in the bare earth between plants with other plants you actually want to have in your garden.
One final thought to leave you with. Remember that weeds do serve a purpose in nature and you should never completely eradicate them, (simply keep them contained in an area of your garden where they are not a problem.) Technically speaking a weed is not a weed, it is simply an uncultivated plant growing in the wrong place!
How to Stop Weeds From Growing
#13 of 30 in the March 2012 Challenge