If there is one thing that gardeners from around the world all dream about – it’s a weed free garden!

weed free garden
A weed free garden allows your plants to get all of the nutrients – not the weeds!

Weeds are not only unsightly – but compete with the vegetable plants and flowers in your garden for the valuable minerals, nutrients and water needed for strong growth. And let’s face it – weeds can make gardening miserable! It’s no fun trying to win back a garden that has been taken over by weeds. It can be long, hot and tedious work – and can make gardening seem like anything but fun!

The simple truth is that weeds CAN be manageable and nearly non-existent in your garden with just a few simple gardening practices. Better yet – they don’ t require large amounts of time and money  – or the use of a single chemical.  

So as we prepare for another gardening season at the farm, we thought we would share the top techniques we use to keep weeds – and the time we spend eliminating them from our garden – to a bare minimum. 

Secrets To A Weed Free Garden

#1 Working Smarter – Not Harder

We have all heard the saying work smarter not harder – and when it comes to keeping a weed free garden, that statement rings true!

If you want to eliminate 75% of your weeding chores instantly – then stop working, tilling and weeding the areas that don’t produce your food – your walking rows!  

Work only the soil where you actually plant your crops – and cover the rest of the space with a low cost or even free mulch source like shredded leaves, straw or wood chips.  We now use a 4 to 5 inch deep covering of bark chips (sourced free from a tree trimming company) in all of our walking rows that has eliminated 99.9 percent of the weeds in those areas. Every year or two – as the mulch breaks down a bit – we add another layer to keep the rows weed free.  We spend no time tilling or hoeing between rows – ever. Now that is a time saver!

Each time you till up between the rows and disturb the soil – you are flipping and planting weeds seeds that have been resting on the surface of the soil. Not only are you spending valuable time working the open space – but even more having to weed it again and again! (See: Growing Simple With Raised Rows)

#2 Eliminating The Biggest Culprit – Bare Soil! 

This goes hand in hand with tip #1. The next major step to eliminating and reducing those weeding chores is to always keep your growing soil covered as well! Whether it be with a mulch during the growing seasons of Spring and Summer – or with a cover crop during the Fall and Winter months, keeping your soil from being exposed will greatly reduce the need to weed – forever!

weed free garden
Our garden with its winter covering of a cover crop – annual rye

Leaving planting areas, raised rows or bed space bare is an open invitation to allowing weed seeds to find a home in the open soil. And those seeds that find open soil can lay dormant for weeks, months, or even years – just waiting to wreak havoc in your garden. 

Mulching Plants – The more you use mulch – the more you will appreciate the benefits!  Using a natural mulch like compost, shredded leaves, straw or even dead grass around your plants can eliminate weeds right from the start.  Mulching also helps conserve moisture in the ground – helping you to save time by watering less throughout the garden season.  Once we plant our growing rows – we place a 2″ layer of mulch about 12″ in diameter around each plant. It not only cuts nearly all of the weeds out – it also fertilizes the plant as the compost leaches into the soil after each rain or watering. For the rest of the growing row space – we mulch with straw or shredded leaves to keep the soil covered and weed seeds from blowing in.

weed free garden
Cover crops also replenish the soil – making for healthy crops like these Chinese Peppers

As soon as our plants are finished for the year – we then plant an inexpensive cover crop like annual rye or hairy vetch in that same growing row.

It not only keeps weeds seeds from blowing in and self-planting – but adds vital nutrients to your soil. Cover crops also help protect against erosion to keep that precious top layer of  garden soil in place.  See : How To Plant Cover Crops

Simply from mulching our plants and walking rows over the past few years – we have all but made weeding non-existent in our garden. It is truly amazing how easy it can be!   

#3 Work Your Garden A Little Each Day

This is the 3rd and final tip – and the one that brings it together to make it all work.

weed free garden
A daily walk through the garden keeps things in check – and lets you enjoy the fruits of your labor

We have all heard the term “the weeds took over overnight!” In reality – rarely, if ever – is that true. What really happens is that in just a few days – a few small weeds can grow and become a much bigger problem. 

Here it is in a nutshell : 5 minutes a day to pull a few small weeds and to add a little mulch where needed is not the same as trying to spend 35 minutes one day a week in the garden.  If you let a few days go by in between visits – trust me – the work will multiply!  5 x 7 may equal 35 minutes – but not in the reality of the garden world.  What will work is a little bit of effort every day.

So stop working that whole garden, learn to love mulch – and spend a few minutes each day in the garden – walk it, enjoy it, and keep it looking great – the easy way! 

Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary

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13 thoughts on “The 3 Secrets To A Weed Free Garden

  • April 10, 2016 at 10:21 am
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    How do you keep the ear wigs and cockroaches out of your garden when you put all that mulch on it ?

  • March 14, 2016 at 1:21 pm
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    I like to add 4 layers of newspaper over the raised beds and throw an inch or two of topsoil over the newspaper ( there is great satisfaction if the newspaper is particularly awful!) so thereby retaining moisture in the summer and no weeds at all. Come spring, it is easy to turn the soil and old newspaper and re apply the newspaper again.

    Best!

    Snake Plisken

  • March 13, 2016 at 11:13 am
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    I just have a question. I can see that you are probably using a board from the pallets you collect for your garden signs, ( but from our experience when we have bought stakes to use for the names of all my irises they always end up rotting at some point then we have to redo them all). What is it that you are using that you are putting the name onto? Is it metal fencing post? That is what I’m thinking. Right now we are trying PVC pipe. Only I don’t really care for the size we are using nor what I am putting the names on to put onto the pipe. I’m thinking we should us a bigger PVC pipe and maybe use pallets as well for the names. I just know we have to find something that is going to work with out having to always redo them ever 2-3 yrs. that can be costly and time consuming.

    • March 14, 2016 at 8:01 am
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      I use the three quarter size to mark my daylilies and iris plants. I buy the outdoor label tape and print the names with a label maker. Three years in and the names still look like new on the PVC.

  • March 13, 2016 at 10:27 am
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    Any advice how to convert an old raised bed into a garden bed? It is full of grassy weeds with a few thicker and deeper ones also. Plan on a 6 inch layer of straw in walking rows and 2 inches around the plant. Teaching my Grandsons field to fork not store to fork.
    Thank you.
    Dorene

  • March 13, 2016 at 10:23 am
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    Do you put down 4-5 inches of woodchips on the area where your raised beds will be installed? I am referring to the wooden sided raised beds. Are there woodchips underneath them too?

    • March 13, 2016 at 10:27 am
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      We do put the 4 to 5 inches of chips on the outside of the raised bed areas where we walk – but the inside is all dirt underneath.

  • March 13, 2016 at 9:15 am
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    You often mention Chinese 5-color peppers, but I can’t find any. Where do you get yours?

  • March 13, 2016 at 9:07 am
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    JIM/MARY I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR A REPORT ON YOUR TRIP TO CLEVELAND AND HOW IT WENT AT THE SHOW. I CAN’T IMAGINE I’M THE ONLY ONE WAITING!

    • March 13, 2016 at 9:35 am
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      Hi Charlie – we will actually be doing an update next sunday or the sunday after on all of our speaking engagements. We had the Cleveland show, and also one for Denison University and one more coming up with the Master Gardener’s and will combine them all into one update.

  • March 13, 2016 at 8:31 am
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    You often talk about shredded leaves as a mulch. I’m wondering if the leaves must be shredded first or can they be used whole?

    • March 13, 2016 at 9:01 am
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      They can be used whole as well – I prefer shredded around the plants simply because they break down better and allow water through better. Whole leaves are actually better to use in walking rows because they really keep weeds down. Hope that helps!

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