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Some natural methods of weed suppression

  • Jim McSweeney poses for a portrait in his garden in Chesterfield. He utilizes several forms of mulch as an environmental-friendly way to supress weeds.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Jim McSweeney poses for a portrait in his garden in Chesterfield. He utilizes several forms of mulch as an environmental-friendly way to supress weeds.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jim McSweeney uses buckwheat as a cover crop to kill off weeds when he is not growing in a particular plot. This buckwheat is mature and can cover a large area. When he wants to plant again, he cuts down the plant and leaves it as mulch to restore nutrients.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Jim McSweeney uses buckwheat as a cover crop to kill off weeds when he is not growing in a particular plot. This buckwheat is mature and can cover a large area. When he wants to plant again, he cuts down the plant and leaves it as mulch to restore nutrients.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jim McSweeney uses buckwheat as a cover crop to kill off weeds when he is not growing in a particular plot. This buckwheat is immature but will soon cover the area. When he wants to plant again, he cuts down the plant and leaves it as mulch to restore nutrients.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Jim McSweeney uses buckwheat as a cover crop to kill off weeds when he is not growing in a particular plot. This buckwheat is immature but will soon cover the area. When he wants to plant again, he cuts down the plant and leaves it as mulch to restore nutrients.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mulch is composted by the earthworms and they produce richer soil. These round bits of soil have been produced by earthworms.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Mulch is composted by the earthworms and they produce richer soil. These round bits of soil have been produced by earthworms.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jim McSweeney uses stone and straw as the form of mulch in his greenhouse. Both prevent weeds without chemicals.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Jim McSweeney uses stone and straw as the form of mulch in his greenhouse. Both prevent weeds without chemicals.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jim McSweeney uses many different kinds of mulch in his garden. He uses wood chips along walkways in this part of the garden and straw in his garlic plot. The straw is usually cuttings from plants to bring some nutrients back into the soil.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Jim McSweeney uses many different kinds of mulch in his garden. He uses wood chips along walkways in this part of the garden and straw in his garlic plot. The straw is usually cuttings from plants to bring some nutrients back into the soil.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jim McSweeney poses for a portrait in his garden in Chesterfield. He utilizes several forms of mulch as an environmental-friendly way to supress weeds.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Jim McSweeney uses buckwheat as a cover crop to kill off weeds when he is not growing in a particular plot. This buckwheat is mature and can cover a large area. When he wants to plant again, he cuts down the plant and leaves it as mulch to restore nutrients.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Jim McSweeney uses buckwheat as a cover crop to kill off weeds when he is not growing in a particular plot. This buckwheat is immature but will soon cover the area. When he wants to plant again, he cuts down the plant and leaves it as mulch to restore nutrients.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Mulch is composted by the earthworms and they produce richer soil. These round bits of soil have been produced by earthworms.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Jim McSweeney uses stone and straw as the form of mulch in his greenhouse. Both prevent weeds without chemicals.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Jim McSweeney uses many different kinds of mulch in his garden. He uses wood chips along walkways in this part of the garden and straw in his garlic plot. The straw is usually cuttings from plants to bring some nutrients back into the soil.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

Weeds are the most ubiquitous and normal thing you will ever have in your gardens. However, most of us don’t want weeds overshadowing the efforts of our labor and creativity.

“One of the most important things to consider for weed suppression is proper design and site control,” said Jim McSweeney, president of Hilltown Tree and Garden LLC in Chesterfield.

McSweeney has been a horticulturalist and arborist for over 20 years.

“With proper design and site control, you can avoid future weed problems,” he said. “For example, when you amend your soil, never use topsoil.”

McSweeney added that topsoil has a tendency to come pre-loaded with a wide array of seed. He suggests amending soil with properly treated compost that has been heated to destroy seeds.

If you are starting out with a new area that you would like to plant, McSweeney said there are three ways to approach the initial removal of weeds. The first is mechanical, whether you use some type of machinery such as a tiller, or hand tools (and your hands) to remove the weeds in an area before you plant your gardens.

The second method involves spraying — which McSweeney does not recommend, due to hazards to both people and the ecology of your site.

He said there is one natural product that can be sprayed, which is a horticultural-strength vinegar solution.

“But the vinegar solution doesn’t work very well on anything other than annual weeds,” he said.

The third method, in fact, follows the first method. McSweeney said that once you have mechanically removed the weeds from your site, the next best thing to do is smother what’s left by laying down cardboard and then a layer of compost. McSweeney cautioned not to try smothering the weeds before they are removed because some weeds simply refuse to be smothered.

“Knotweed will blow right through any smothering attempts,” he said.

Once you have done the prep work and installed your gardens, there are methods of weed suppression to suit differing situations. McSweeney suggests that straw (not hay, which is full of seed) be used as mulch in vegetable gardens once the plants are a few inches high. You can continue to lay down layers of straw as the plants grow to significantly reduce the need to weed.

Cover crops, McSweeney said, are another good method of weed suppression in your vegetable gardens.

“For example, growing a cover crop of buckwheat (while the garden is wither dormant or laying fallow during the regular growing season) not only suppresses weeds, but offers flowers for bees, forage for livestock (such as ducks), and can be turned back into the soil to improve fertility,” he said.

For perennial/annual flowerbeds, McSweeney suggests using bark mulch for weed suppression.

“It’s practical and aesthetic. You can also use wood chips or pea stone for paths in and around your gardens,” he said.

He also recommends edging your gardens once or twice a year with a flat-head spade or an edging tool to keep grass and other weeds from creeping into your gardens.

McSweeney does not recommend landscape fabric for weed suppression.

“Gardens are a dynamic organism, and the fabric gets in the way of a lot of natural processes,” he said.

Lastly, McSweeney said the most important part of weed suppression is the thing no one really wants to hear — routine and ongoing maintenance.

Quoting a Chinese proverb, he said, “The greatest fertilizer is the farmer’s footprint.”

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