Not only do weeds in the garden look unsightly but they can also affect the growth of your plants by competing for water and nutrients. Mulching around plants is an effective way of preventing weeds from appearing on the surface of your soil. Mulches work by excluding the light that weeds need to grow. This in turn makes keeping on top of weed control much easier to handle, saving yourself work. It is also a great way of trapping in moisture, preventing the need for plants drying out. Not all materials used for mulching are visually appealing so you need to bear this in mind when deciding what type of mulch that you will use in your garden. If like me, you also want the garden to look good, you will give this some serious thought.
Black polythene, although unsightly, is one of the most effective mulches for completely getting rid of perennial weeds and locking in moisture. When laid over the soil no light at all can reach the leaves and the weeds will die over time. You must make sure that you anchor down the edges of the polythene securely otherwise it can be easily torn and blown away in the wind. It is ideally used in between the rows of fruit trees where they have shallow roots, making weeding difficult.
Another way of using the black polythene within the garden is to cover the entire bed and plant through it small cross slits. This is very easily done with strawberries or potatoes, preventing the need to earth up with surrounding soil. The disadvantage to using black polythene is that it is very difficult to water the roots of plants underneath. The best way to get water to the soil underneath is to lay a seep hose underneath the sheets of plastic.
Garden compost is brilliant for improving soil structure and adding nutrients but it is not very good at deterring weeds; it also looks very unsightly. Even applied in thick layers, the weeds will thank you by growing even stronger!
Cardboard can be used in the same way as polythene. Plants can be grown through slits cut into the cardboard. It can be dug directly into the soil after crops have been harvested as it rots down really easily or it can be added to the compost heap as a ‘brown’ option.
This is a really cheap method of mulching. Lay about six sheets on top of each other and anchor down securely between the rows of crops. I used this method very successfully this year, and the weed growth was very minimal. Try and lay the paper on a mild day though as it can get very frustrating trying to lay the paper on a windy day. Apply a little water to each layer when you have laid it to help keep it in place. It will take long time to rot down proving to be a very good material for mulching as it reduced the weeds for a good length of time.
By far the most popular and attractive method mulching is using bark or wood chippings. When they are applied in thick layers they can prevent weed growth effectively. Initially, the purchase of bark can be quite costly but it will last for a long period of time. Most tree surgeons welcome the chance to off load their chippings and some will even deliver free of charge. We are lucky enough at our allotment, to have a tree surgeon who delivers an abundance of chipped bark on a regular basis straight to our plot. Contact local tree surgeons where you live to see if this is something that they will consider. Most will thank you for a way of distributing what they deem as waste.
Grass cuttings work well if applied in the right thickness. If there is too little applied then the weeds will still get through; too much and it can be too much for the water and air to reach the plant making it not effective at all, as well as turning slimy and smelly. Some grass cuttings could also have weed seeds incorporated too, making this an ideal opportunity for them to reproduce. Personally, I think that grass cuttings provide more benefit when added to the compost heap rather than being used as a mulch.
There are some people who still use old bits of carpet to smother weeds, especially during the winter months to cover their empty vegetable beds. I read somewhere that this wasn’t such as good idea as some carpets can actually leech nasty chemicals into the soil. I’d prefer not to take the risk of contaminating my soil and in all honesty, I like my allotment to be aesthetically pleasing to my eye and somehow, I doubt that an old bit of axminster would look the best on my plot!
Here in Canada at our allotment garden in eastern Ontario we live close to grain farms. A local farmer brings in straw bales and we’ve used that for mulch. It decomposes quickly and is a good mulch. How quickly does the newspaper disappear?
I suppose it would depend in how thick you layer it. I tend to use 6 layers or more and that last for a few months. I sprinkle the top of the paper with soil to hide the paper and I only get a few surface weeds that are easily pulled by hand. As a moisture retentive they work really well.