I hate to weed. It's my least favorite gardening chore, especially in the veggie patch where annual tilling brings a potpourri of weed seeds to the surface each year. Luckily, I've discovered how to maintain a weed-free garden with little effort.

Weed Control in a Vegetable Garden

My vegetable garden weed control program begins long before I sow any veggie seeds or transplant seedlings. In fact, it starts the previous fall. After putting the garden to bed each year, I spread a thick layer of leaves over the entire veggie patch.

This prevents many weeds from germinating in late fall. I don't worry about piling the leaves too thick. If need be, I can easily rake excess leaves and put them in the compost pile come spring.

My next step for a weed-free garden is to rototill as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. This uproots any large weeds that survived the winter. If any weed seeds do germinate at this time, their seedlings will be turned under when I rototill again.

The Best Garden Mulch for Weed Control

My second secret to a weed-free garden is mulching. Like the leaves I spread in the fall, mulch prohibits germination by preventing light from reaching weed seeds in the soil. I find the best garden mulch for weed control will decompose within a year and enrich the soil.

Newspaper, cardboard and grass clippings fit this requirement. As recycled materials, these are cost-efficient options when used as weed control in a vegetable garden. Here are my tips for using these mulches in the garden:

  • Don't wait -- Weed seeds can germinate quickly. As soon as I sow seeds or transplant seedlings, I begin laying down mulch between the rows and around young plants.
  • Avoid the burn -- A thick layer of fresh grass clippings can create heat and damage young veggie plants. I spread fresh clippings thinly and add more each day or I shield my veggie seedlings from the grass clippings by placing a 3 to 4 inch (7.6-10 cm.) ring of shredded paper around the base of each plant.
  • Don't shred cardboard -- Not only is this hard on my paper shredder, but flattened boxes can be used to mulch large areas of the garden. I use it between rows of plants and in places that will eventually be overgrown with vining plants, such as pumpkins.
  • Be vigilant -- As paper absorbs moisture and grass clippings dry, these mulches have a tendency to shrink. To maintain my weed-free garden all season long, I scout the garden weekly and quickly remove any weeds that penetrated the mulch barrier.
  • Keep on mulching -- Each time I cut the grass, I add more clippings to the garden. Placing grass clippings overtop the shredded paper creates two layers of weed barrier protection.
  • Know your source --To ensure food safety, I don't use grass clippings which have been treated with chemicals. Additionally, some types of paper can contain harmful chemicals or plastic inserts. In general, newspaper and brown cardboard are the safest paper products to use for weed control in a vegetable garden.
Laura Miller
Writer

Laura Miller has been gardening all her life. Holding a degree in Biology, Nutrition, and Agriculture, Laura's area of expertise is vegetables, herbs, and all things edible. She lives in Ohio.