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Got Weed Problems? Read this!

How to control weeds - LivingHomegrown.com

I think all organic gardeners have their favorite weapons against weeds. One of my favorites (for weedy walkways) is boiling water.

But in this post, I wanted to talk about my latest, greatest, sustainable, oh-why-didn’t-I-start-doing-this-sooner gardening technique.

I learned this tip from my friend, Margaret Roach of A Way To Garden. I have written about Margaret before here. And after following her blog for about 6 years, I have learned many wonderful gardening tips and tricks from her.

But I have to be honest. Today’s trick is really not “new” at all.

I knew of a different version of it and I’m sure you do too. It just took Margaret several years of mentioning her way before I actually tried it myself.

And wow.

My reason for hedging for so long was that this “trick” is very similar to other techniques I had tried and failed miserably at. So, I thought to myself, “Been there, done that”.

Boy was I wrong!

How to control weeds - LivingHomegrown.com

I am now a faithful user of cardboard

That’s it??

Yes, you heard me. Plain old cardboard.

I’m sure you wanted something more exciting or sexy than cardboard. But hear me out.

I now lay cardboard down in my garden beds at the beginning of each season and cover them with mulch.

The result is that my weed problems have been reduced by about 95%.

I kid you not!

What About Other Options?

I’m sure (like me) you had already heard of (or even tried) laying down newspaper or just a thick mulch to smother weeds. The idea is to cover the soil enough to block light from the weeds while still getting water to the surrounding plants. The weeds smother and don’t come up.

Well it works for other people. But for me…not so much.

Many years ago, I tried the newspaper thing and it was a complete disaster! The newspaper showed through in spots and would fly all over the garden every time we had even a slight breeze. It looked tacky and terrible.

And yes, I have used black plastic to solarize areas where I wanted to kill grass. I still do. That works well for large grassy areas, but does not work within my garden beds. Plus, I don’t want plastic in my edible garden.

And don’t even get me started on landscape fabric. It sucks on many levels within my cottage garden veggie beds.

Edible Garden of Theresa Loe - LivingHomegrown.com

My veggie-herb garden

See, my garden beds are planted in a cottage design. I rarely plant rows.

And I rotate my crops which means that I replant the entire garden each year in a new way. So landscape fabric doesn’t work when I am constantly moving and changing my layout.

Why Cardboard is Better:

Then I learned about cardboard from Margaret and my life changed forever.

  • First, the cardboard does not blow down the street. It is heavier and stays put. It does the job of smothering the weeds, grass etc. This is my second year doing this and so far, I have not had to anchor it down.
  • Second, it breaks down so well that at the end of the season you are left with lovely soil and no cardboard. This means that I can change my veggie design with a clean slate each year.
  • Third, the brown paper blends pretty well even if some cardboard corners pop up here and there. It is much less conspicuous than newspaper.

My Test Year – Removing A Train:

Train Garden of Theresa Loe - LivingHomegrown.com

I removed this train garden to plant more veggies

Last year was a real test case for me. I tore out my old train garden that sits in the center of my vegetable/herb area.

It was sad to do, but my kids have grown into teenagers and we just were not using it to run the train anymore. I really wanted that prime real estate for growing more vegetables.

I only have 1/10th of an acre here upon which to grow food. I need and use every spare inch.

As a result of not using the train, weeds had started growing up through the tracks and I had allowed large sections of the garden village to go to weedy.

Sadly, those weeds all went to seed.

After weeding and removing the train paraphernalia, I knew I was one watering away from a bed full of weeds again.

Hoarding & Trying Cardboard:

I decided to try cardboard.

I hoarded cardboard from the neighborhood, pulling it out of trash bins destined for the landfill. I especially searched for non-printed boxes.

I laid them out and covered them with a mix of my own compost and store-bought organic compost. I watered and waited.

How to prevent weeds with cardboard - LivingHomegrown.com

AMAZING.

I did not have any weeds the entire season. The only weeds I got were where I had left gaps along the edges of the cardboard.

How to Control Weeds with Cardboard - LivingHomegrown.com

The only weeds were along the edges where there was no cardboard.

The cardboard slowly broke down and was mulched in right as my season ended.

You may be wondering about trying to use cardboard around perennials. It is pretty easy. As I said, my veggie garden is NOT planted in rows. So I have to cut and maneuver the cardboard around existing plants. It is a bit of a pain, but it works.

 The Pros of Using Cardboard:

  • Easily cut to fit around existing plants and trees.
  • Easy to poke a hole and plant something through the cardboard. Just dampen the cardboard and use a spade to cut right through.
  • Thick enough to truly smother weeds and not blow down the street.

How to Control Weeds with Cardboard - LivingHomegrown.com

The Cons of Using Cardboard:

  • You need more than you think and you have to dumpster dive to find it.
  • If packing tape is left behind, you find it as you cultivate the soil.
  • A hard rain and over zealous watering will expose the cardboard and make it look trashy. You have to keep an eye on that for the first few months until the paper starts to break down.
  • In the beginning, you need to periodically deep water so the water penetrates through to the soil.
  • It needs at least 2 inches of compost or mulch, (I use 3 inches) to truly hide it and keep it in place. You may not have that much on hand. I have to supplement my homemade compost with more to cover my entire vegetable garden area.

So what about you…

What is your best defense against weeds?

Tell me in the comments!

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.