No matter how amazing the gardener, weeds are an unavoidable part of the gardening life. Although herbicides may seem like the quickest and easiest option for keeping weeds out of flower beds, they are typically not necessary for ornamentals in small beds, as other control methods are quite effective. Instead, keep your flower beds weed-free by implementing a multi-step weed reduction plan.
1. Hand Pulling
When done frequently enough, hand weeding prevents weeds from seeding and reduces the number of annual weeds overall. Pull weeds when they have just emerged and just after you have watered. Roots will be less established and weeds will be easier to pull. For weeds such as dandelions with deep taproots, pull up as much of the root as possible using a dandelion digger or other tool.
Compost improves soil structure, making it easier to remove weeds while nourishing flowers. If you have clay or other soil that does not easily absorb water, weeds may grow stronger than desirable flowers. For compost, gather grass, leaves and wood chips from your lawn. Working in layers, add 6 inches of one material followed by 6 inches of another to a small bucket or bin, wetting each layer as you go. Use the optimal ratio of 75 percent brown material like wood chips and dead leaves to 25 percent green material like grass clippings. Turn the pile every two weeks. When your compost is ready in 6 to 8 weeks, spread a 1-inch layer over the soil and work it in until it reaches a depth of 4 to 8 inches.
3. Organic Mulch
Organic mulch prevents weeds by decreasing light, thus limiting weeds' ability to grow. For very fine-textured mulches like sawdust, spread a 2-inch layer over the surface of the bed, covering the areas around flowers. For coarser mulch like wood chips, apply a 4-inch layer to ensure that light cannot reach sprouting weeds. Replace chips when the layer is below 4 inches. For grass, leaf or straw mulches, apply 4 to 6 inches of mulch and rake it into the soil at the end of the growing season.
4. Inorganic and Synthetic Mulch
Although inorganic mulch such as rock or sand will not nourish the soil like organics, it will not decompose. Lay a 2- to 3-inch layer of rock or pebble to keep light from weeds. Black plastic can be also used under other mulch for added protection. Lay down a sheet the size of the bed and secure the edges with gardeners' staples. Around the spot where you will place each plant, cut two short slits in the plastic in the shape of a cross and pull the flower through the opening, or place a new plant in the opening. Add 1 inch of mulch over the fabric. Plastic breaks apart over time and may create uneven water absorption and air circulation, which can lead to disease. Landscape fabric is a good alternative for long term use as it lends improved water and air circulation. It can be placed and cut as described above.
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