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Kill Weeds Without Chemicals or Money, Part 2 (Photosynthesis 101)

July 28, 2009

After reading the first part of this lesson, our mission is clear… Kill weeds by preventing their access to sunlight.

This will serve two purposes: By killing weeds that already exists, and by preventing weed seeds from germinating. Even though your garden may look clear, it is full of weed seeds that are waiting to germinate. So, what to do?

Gather your supplies. For this project, everything you need is free. First, get a bunch of old newspaper. Every square inch of exposed soil is going to get covered with newspaper. A thick layer of newspaper, at least 1/8″. So make sure you bring enough! Next, you need mulch. Mulch is applied in a layer all across the garden, and its main purposes are to retain soil moisture and maintain soil temperature. However, when used in conjunction with newspaper, the mulch will actually prevent weed growth. Woodchip mulch is available for free in many cities, including Madison, WI (click here for locations) and San Diego, CA (click here for more info). If you can’t find a municipal source for free mulch, try calling landscaping and wood chipping companies, They usually throw away or recycle their wood chips, so they would be happy to provide you with some for free.

Step 1: Assess the situation. Decide which plants in the garden to keep, and which plants are weeds. At this time, remove any large weeds, but leave smaller weeds that are 1″ in height or less. We’ll just cover those up in the next step. Also, depending on your garden, you may also choose to eliminate some grass, and create a “border” between your lawn and your garden. This will help prevent the spread of weeds from the lawn into the garden. Remember the that soil if full of weed seeds:

seedling1_thesituation.gif

2. Next, apply a thick layer of newspaper to cover all of the exposed soil, and any existing weeds and grass that you want to eliminate. I usually take an entire “section” of newspaper, unfold it once, and lay it on the ground. Make sure that the newspaper covers everywhere – right up the the stems of your “good” plants. You can overlap the newspaper sections, and tear them to smaller sizes in order to fit small spaces. Make sure the newspaper covering is thick – about 1/8″.

3. Then , apply a layer of mulch to cover all of the newspaper, The mulch layer should be a couple of inches thick, and should completely cover the newspaper. In addition to preventing weed growth, the mulch layer adds visual interest to your garden.

4. Water the entire garden. This will soak the mulch and newspaper to make sure that they stay in place. In the illustration below, the section on the right is untreated, and the section on the left is covered with paper and mulch as instructed:

seedling2_mulch.gif

After a few weeks, take another look at your garden. I bet the mulch looks great, and that there are hardly any weeds! Without this treatment, you garden would look the the right section of the illustration – the existing seeds would have grown, and the weeds seeds would have germinated, leaving you a lot of work. There may be a few weeds growing through the mulch, but it won’t be difficult to keep them under control:

seedling3_later.gif

The reason this works is photosynthesis. Plants need sunlight to grow, and if you cover them up with newspaper and mulch, they will die. No money, no chemicals, and no hassle! Have you ever tried this? Leave a comment and let me know.

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