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Weedless gardening makes sense

May 31, 2010|By ANNETTE IPSAN

Got weeds? If you garden, you have weeds. They are an unfortunate fact of life that makes for much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth.

What's a gardener to do? Traditional weed control involves pulling, digging, spraying and cursing. There must be a better way.

Noted garden writer and horticulturalist Lee Reich has a plan. I heard Lee speak recently at a Master Gardener conference about "weedless gardening," the title of his newest book, and I was intrigued. Surely this PhD pro who did plant and soil research with both the USDA and Cornell University could teach me a thing or two.

Lee has developed a four-prong approach to dealing with weeds that makes a lot of sense. I've been doing some of these things and plan to do more after seeing the impressive results in Lee's own gardens.

One caveat: There is no such thing as a completely weedless garden. In every garden, some seed will fall and sprout. The idea is to try to lessen its chances.

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So, how do you get a weedless garden? Step one is to step away from your tiller. Tilling stirs up dormant weed seeds and encourages them to sprout. So, don't do it.

Avoiding tilling has bushels of benefits. It preserves different size soil particles so air, water and nutrients can get to plant roots. It makes watering more efficient since water doesn't just slide through all the fluffy soil tilling creates.

Stop tilling and you preserve organic matter that gets burned up when tilling introduces oxygen into soil. Best of all, avoiding tilling means you don't need to till. Those of us who get dragged across their beds by tillers, teeth chattering, are ever so grateful, Lee.

Tip No. 2 for a weedless garden is to designate permanent areas for beds and paths. The idea here is that you never walk on your planted beds, so they stay light and workable, not compacted.

For example, Lee sets up his vegetable beds as rectangular raised beds 3 feet wide with mulched paths between. Get creative in every bed so there are places for plants and places to walk.

The third step to weedless gardening is to cover the soil. Bare soil invites weeds. Without sun, most can't sprout. So, add a one-inch layer of organic matter like compost to your garden beds to block weeds.

Mulch keeps plant roots cool and moist and keeps the soil from getting hard and unable to absorb water. If you use compost, it also provides most of the food plants need. In pathways or around shrubs, use a mulch of wood chips, grass clippings or chopped leaves.

Step four to weedless gardening is drip irrigation. Drip irrigation pinpoints watering so you're not encouraging weeds between plants and paths. It keeps leaves dry to discourage disease and saves up to 60 percent of your water.

Drip irrigation is easy to install and manage. There are dozens of catalog and online sources for do-it-yourselfers. I like quick, cheap, easy soaker hoses, but Lee feels they water less efficiently.

There you have it: Four easy steps to becoming more weed free. What proof does Lee have that these techniques work? He spends only five minutes a week weeding his considerable gardens. That's impressive. I hope you'll try a tip or two and find you're conquering your weeds.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604 or by e-mail at aipsan@umd.edu">aipsan@umd.edu.

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