Is it just a dream?
I have some serious experience in gardening. I’m not your average “salad” gardener. I grow most of what I eat…. all year… For the 101 days I was on The Homesteaders Food Challenge I grew everything I ate. Which is tricky. When you decide to grow your entire diet you need to know how to grow things. Or you’ll starve.
I didn’t starve and I had a massive garden. Last year I had 3 massive gardens actually. When you have several gardens you learn a thing or two about weeding.
Like how much you hate it.
So, I became an expert at preventing weeds because I wanted to go to the pool and not weed my garden every day of my life.
If you want to ditch weeding & don’t know how – this is for you!!!!!
Of all the tricks, systems and methods I tried – this one is my favorite.
My mulch of choice is: STRAW
- Straw is easy to find.
- Straw is cheap.
- Straw is easy to spread.
- Straw allows plants (and soil) to breathe (so you don’t get a fungus down there).
- Straw composts fast.
- Straw will improve your soil.
But it has to be STRAW…
Now, you CAN use mulch, wood chips, grass clippings, pine needles or even dried leaves… instead of straw,
BUT DO NOT USE HAY.
You do not want hay in your garden.
Sorry for yelling. It’s really important that you mulch your garden with straw (or mulch, or wood chips, or grass clippings, or pine needles, or dried leaves) JUST NOT HAY.
You see, if you spread hay around, anywhere, you are basically seeding that area….. with grass seed. And I promise you that you do not want to plant grass seed in your garden. Ugh. Just Shoot Me.
Hay is not straw and straw is not hay.
Straw: Straw is dried and baled wheat. When you plant straw it comes in pretty quickly, grows into big wheat and dies. The farmer cuts it bales it or harvests it or whatever and it is gone. Never to be seen again. It won’t grow back again unless you sow wheat seeds again. If you happen to have a straw seed sprout in your garden you don’t need to worry. Straw is an annual. It will not come back next year. It will eventually die and turn into fertile soil. It’s life ends and stops and you won’t ever see it again.
HAY: Hay is dried and baled grass. When you plant grass you had better want it there forever because it will move in for life. Grass comes back year after year. Grass is a perennial. Not only will it come back every year, many grasses are designed to spread, cover and expand. The longer the grass is there the more it grows, spreads and takes over. Grass does not need to be reseeded (usually) because it always comes back (bigger and badder). If you put hay in your garden, it will turn your garden into a grassy field and continue to grow and advance and spread forever and ever. And did I mention it will ruin your
You can see why
planting mulching your garden with hay is a terrible idea and using straw (or other non-grass mulch) is a fabulous idea.
I usually buy a few bales of straw every spring so I don’t have to weed all summer.
So, we’ve all been there.
Long awaited springtime finally arrives and we get that itch again. We want to plant. We want to sow. We want to grow food!
We head out to our gardens with a happy heart and a skip in our step only to find that our garden is not there and a bumper crop of weeds are ready to be harvested.
Because it’s spring and we have unheard of energy and determination we adorn our best weeding attire & set to work. We pull. We tug. We destroy every weed until we are left with beautiful soil. The weed destruction event may include tilling and even top dressing. Once the garden is prepped and ready we plant our baby seedlings and sow our seeds.
And then it happens.
It rains for 2 weeks straight and we can no longer see our plants because the weeds have come back in a big way. My weed-free, newly planted, fresh garden beds are a disaster in a matter of days.
Believe it or not, sometimes pulling weeds, tilling soil and top dressing introduce more weed seeds than you had in your garden to begin with.
I’m gonna show you how to stop the crazy cycle.
Why Straw is Good For Your Garden:
- It won’t turn your garden into a grassy pasture
- It blocks out the sun, preventing weeds from growing and preventing hidden weed seeds from germinating
- It holds in moisture so your soil stays damp longer (this means you won’t need to water as often).
- It shades your soil so cool season crops don’t bolt as soon (like lettuce, cilantro & broccoli)
- It fertilizes and improves your soil. As the straw breaks down and composts it will make your soil better.
- It is organic. Unlike fabrics and covers, straw is actually good for your garden. It is good for the worms, the earth and the environment.
Here’s 6 Ways to Use Straw (or seed-free mulch) to Stop Weeds
How to Stop Weeds: #1 Pull up all the weeds
First, get down there and pull up those dang weeds. If you till them they will usually just replant themselves. If you scrape the tops off (or rip the tops off) they will usually grow a new one. They must come out if you don’t want to weed again. Sorry.
Tips for pulling weeds:
- Do it after a rain. They will come up easier.
- Try to get the root out too. Many weeds will just grow a new top no matter how many times you scrape off the tops.
- Use whatever works for you. Hoes, cultivators, blades. Just get them up.
- Toss them far from your garden. If you just pull them & leave them in the garden they will most likely replant themselves & grow again.
How to Stop Weeds: #2 A Thick Layer of Straw (or seed-free mulch)
Once the weeds are gone you must cover any exposed bare ground. Not tomorrow. Not this weekend. Not when you get a day off. Lay the straw now. You need to spread the straw the day you pull all the weeds up. If you don’t, you’ll be weeding again when you get around to putting down the straw.
Lay a nice thick layer of straw over any exposed ground.
Spread the straw (or seed-free mulch) where ever you don’t want weeds to grow. You can see here I have sugar snap peas growing up an A-frame shaped trellis. I HATE weeding the center of this blasted thing. Ugh. Yes, I squeeze my giant self into this tiny triangle to get to the weeds & it’s no fun. So, I mulch deep in the middle of this guy so I don’t have to ever go in there again.
How to Stop Weeds: #3 Don’t Cover Seeds You Sowed
As a rule, I don’t lay straw on top of seeds I sowed underground. I want my little seeds to germinate, find the light and grow toward the sun before I drown them in straw. In the picture above you can see I mulched the center of this trellis with straw, but left the outside bare. My Roma beans are planted here & they haven’t come up yet. Once they arrive I will let them grow until they are 4-8 inches tall, then I’ll mulch around them.
How to Stop Weeds: #4 If it’s not Planted yet, Mulch it
Anytime you have an empty bed that you haven’t planted yet, you should sprinkle some straw on it. This will do several things.
- Prevent weeds from growing
- Keep the soil moist, soft and workable (anyone ever tried to plant in dry, hard, ground? Not fun)
- Encourage worms… they love mulch
- Improve your soil – as the straw breaks down it will make your garden better
In the above picture, the bed closest to you hasn’t been planted yet. It is buried in straw while it waits for veggies. There is a little butter crunch, lettuce volunteer that sprouted on his own. I decided I wanted to eat him in another week – so he stayed.
How to Stop Weeds: #5 Mulching Will Make Growing Easier
I know people who don’t ever grow onions or garlic because they are a weeding nightmare. It’s kinda true. The problem with these plants is the tops are so sparse. An onion (or garlic) plant doesn’t have much leafy foliage to shade the ground and prevent weeds. When you plant onions or garlic the ground is pretty much getting full sun.
Full sun on exposed, bare ground means one thing: Weeds.
To prevent this weed nightmare I just cram straw between all my onions & garlic. The ground is covered & the weeds go to sleep.
How to Stop Weeds: #6 Mulch Row Gardens
Simply covering all your walking paths with straw will save you a ton of work.
How to Stop Weeds: #7 Serious Problem Gardens
I have a cousin who recently moved. As he was mowing his grass one day (the grass was like a jungle) he ran straight into something. Turned out it was a raised garden bed & there were several of them buried under all the weeds.
His weed problem is like no other I have seen. He has torched the beds. He has tilled. He has top dressed with new soil. He has covered in straw & the weeds & grass are unstoppable.
For this type of scenario, you may need to lay down a layer of paper before you put the straw on top. You can use newspapers or cardboard boxes. Arrange the paper in a thick layer around all your plants. After you have the paper down lay the mulch on top of that. The paper will break down & compost as it blocks the sun from all those weeds. The mulch on top of the paper will keep it from blowing away. I did something similar last year. Go here to see it.
As frustrating as it may seem I have good news. Each year as you top dress with mulch & remove weeds you will find you have less and fewer weeds to pull. Only the weeds laying on the top layer of soil will germinate and grow. As long as you don’t till your garden you will eventually get to a point where the weeds are just about gone.
Mulching is never perfect and won’t eliminate 100% of your weeds….. but it will eliminate the majority of them. For me, this means I only have to pull 10 weeds instead of 10,000.
Spreading straw is a quick, easy task. It only takes a few dollars and a few minutes to save you hours and hours of weeding this summer!
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