Weedless Gardening with Lee Reich

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One of the most common struggles for gardeners is how to deal with weeds. There are different strategies that we can try, but what really works? We may not ever have a weedless garden, but we can certainly strive for having to weed less.

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I had the opportunity to talk with a renowned horticulturist, Dr. Lee Reich, about his book Weedless Gardening and he shared a few of his best tips for protecting your garden from being overcome by weeds. You may recognize Dr. Reich from my conversation with him about growing blueberries. He is a wealth of knowledge on so many topics.

Continue reading for the highlights or click below to listen to our full conversation.

For a Weedless Garden, Do Not Till

Tilling and turning over the garden soil actually increase weeds in your garden. Tilling brings weed seeds up to the top of the soil where the light and heat help germinate these seeds. Not tilling is Dr. Reich’s primary recommendation for keeping weeds out of the garden.

Personally, I’ve seen this play out in my garden as well. For the first few years I did till my soil in the spring, and even with a layer of mulch, I battled weeds and grasses. But a few years after I stopped tilling my garden, I’ve noticed the weed pressure decrease dramatically — especially as I apply a good layer of mulch each year.

Weed consistently

To keep weeds from taking over your garden, weed consistently all season. Gardeners weed often in the early spring but then don’t continue for various reasons (who wants to weed in the heat?). By the end of the season, weeding feels overwhelming because those tiny weeds became big ones. But the weed takeover could have been prevented by consistent weeding through the season.

When I use my Rogue Hoe to cut baby weed sprouts at the surface, I can avoid those weeds establishing themselves in my garden, which creates more work in the long-run.

For the most deep-rooted weeds, instead of chopping them with a hoe at surface level, you want to pull each weed out by hand. Chopping these deep-rooted weeds leads to regrowth. If the weed cannot be easily pulled, use a trowel to dig up the roots and remove the plant.

Mulch to Prevent Weeds

To inhibit weed seed germination, make sure that your soil stays covered. Choose a weed-free organic material, such as compost or wood chips. Keeping the soil covered will suppress weeds. Most of the materials that are great for mulch are things that people are trying to get rid of anyway!

wood chip mulch in raised bed

Plant Spacing in Weed Prevention

Many beginner gardeners have trouble with plant spacing. Too far apart and weeds have room to take over. Too close and they don’t have room to mature. One piece of advice is to think about the size of the mature plant and plant your seeds far enough apart for the leaves — when the plant is mature — to touch one another. This canopy will help shade the soil and prevent weed seed germination.

Still too many weeds?

If you still have too many weeds, there are a couple of things that you can do. My favorite alternative method is also one Dr. Reich suggests — use a black plastic tarp to cover a bed for 2 weeks. The weed seeds germinate because they get warm, but they quickly die because of the lack of light.

Make sure to check out Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich for even more tips for staying on top of your weeds!

Check out the other books in this Gardening Books for Beginner’s Series:
Field Guide to Urban Gardening with Kevin Espiritu of Epic Gardening
The AutoPilot Garden with Luke Marion of MI Gardener

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