CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Addressing a crowd of Extension Master Gardeners at the recent West Virginia Master Gardener Conference, author Lee Reich shared his secret for a weedless garden. While it might sound like an impossible dream, it is possible to greatly reduce weeds with certain practices.
It turns out that many gardeners are their own worst enemies when it comes to the battle against weeds. I am reminded of this when I see shoppers at garden centers gleefully purchasing giant jugs of weed killer.
Not that herbicides don't have their place -- there are some weeds and uncontrollable situations that don't respond to anything less than chemical warfare. But there are ways to reduce weed growth in the garden, landscape and lawn and, thus, reduce the need for chemical intervention.
In the vegetable garden
Rather than plowing up a large area and planting crops in rows, Reich has dedicated beds and walkways. Many folks who have raised-bed gardens already have this covered, but just like the author, the beds don't have to be raised. This reduces weeds in several ways.
First, putting plants in a closer bed spacing, as opposed to open row spacing, crowds out weeds. Secondly, his walkways are covered with woodchips and other mulches that smother weeds. He has adopted a no-till system; tilling brings long-stored weed seeds to the surface to germinate. He reduces weeds dropped from birds and other means by adding a fresh one-inch layer of compost to the top of the bed each year.
Additionally, Reich advocates the use of drip irrigation (not soaker hose irrigation) for the garden. It can help you direct the water to the plants you are growing and limit the watering of weeds, and help reduce water consumption and water bills. Relatively simple drip irrigation kits are available at local garden centers and online.
It is important to remember that a weedless garden does require weeding. There will be some weeds that need to be removed. One of the best tools for this is a stirrup hoe, which looks like a stirrup from a saddle on the end of the stick. Running it just under the soil surface makes cultivation much faster than a traditional garden hoe (which Reich says is better suited to mixing concrete). Big, perennial weeds such as dandelions will have to be pulled by hand.
Landscape and flowerbeds