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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