For ‘weedless gardening’ next spring, begin now
I take a four-pronged approach to keeping my vegetable and flower gardens free of weed problems, and suggest you try it.
First, keep dormant weed seeds asleep by not tilling or otherwise churning the soil. (All soils contain many weed seeds that lie dormant until they are exposed to light, which happens when soils are tilled.)
Second, avoid soil compaction by using beds and paths, or stepping stones, to make permanent areas for planting and for walking.
Third, lay down a thin, weed-free, organic mulch to snuff out weeds that wind or birds carry into your garden.
And fourth, wherever regular watering is needed, use drip irrigation so that weeds are not encouraged in paths or between widely spaced plants.
Of course, the “weedless” garden that results is not totally maintenance-free. What fun would a garden be, anyway, with nothing to do in it? So some maintenance is required, and now is a good time to begin.
APPLY ORGANIC FERTILIZER NOW
Perhaps your garden will need fertilizer in spring. Apply an organic fertilizer such as soybean meal now and it won’t wash away. In contrast to most “chemical” fertilizers, which can leach away as they wash down through the soil, organic fertilizers remain in place until spring’s warmth and moisture start their decomposition and release of nutrients. This works out nicely because this same warmth and moisture also get plants growing — and hungry — in spring.
Most gardening books tell you to dig or at least scratch fertilizer into the soil. Forget about it: Do as Mother Nature does and sprinkle it on the surface of the soil. Water and time will work it down.
The next thing to do for your weedless garden is to replenish mulches. The inch of compost with which I blanket planting beds in my vegetable garden quells weeds at the same time it fertilizes my garden, so I apply it yearly.
Wood chips in the paths are there only to quell weeds, so I replenish them only as needed to keep bare soil from peeking through.
The same holds true for the leaf mold or wood chip mulch on my flowerbeds.
Now is also a good time to clean up spent garden plants. I minimize soil disruption in removing such plants as old marigolds and cabbages by giving each plant a quick twist, leaving me with stems, leaves and coarse roots in hand. The fine roots remain in the soil to decompose and naturally break it up.
To clean up more robust plants such as corn or cosmos without discombobulating the soil, I cut straight down with a garden knife all around them, give a quick twist, and out they come.
AND ... WEED
My final bit of autumnal maintenance is — dare I say it? — weeding. I remove larger weeds in the same way that I remove larger vegetable or flower plants, yanking them out after severing the larger roots with a twist or a knife. I might take a hoe, one with a sharp blade that runs parallel to and just a hair below the ground, to do in colonies of small weeds. Or I might drop to my knees and rip back clumps of ground ivy trying to creep in from the garden’s edges.
There. The garden is right and ready for spring. Charles Dudley Warner suggested in his 1870 classic “My Summer in the Garden” that we put “the garden in complete order before the snow comes, so that its last days shall not present a scene of melancholy ruin and decay.” Besides the garden looking nice with few weed problems, there will be no delays to spring planting.