Back in 1998, my first job after college was a live-in nanny position on a 90-acre hobby farm. The family I worked for said I could have a garden and I was excited about having fresh veggies to eat. I was used to a heavy academic load and so took advantage of the adult ed classes offered through the community education program. The revolutionary class for me was the minimal maintenance gardening one—so simple and yet so profound. These principles have stuck with me all these years and I want to share them with you!
Why spend your time weeding your vegetable garden or flower beds? Wouldn’t you rather be enjoying using your time to do other things?
The basic principle is to maintain at least two inches of cover around plants. This won’t prohibit the seeds from germinating, but it will deny them the light which hinders their growth. If you remove your mulch and look, you will often see small sickly sprouted seedlings of weeds. The important thing to remember is to maintain at least two inches. People think they can dump some yard waste or mulch around their plants and call it good for a year. Not always so. You have to continue to add more cover because it will break down and decompose, depending on the mulch used. This is a good thing though! You are improving your soil and you can use what you have on hand—grass clippings, leaves, straw, newspapers and shredded paper. I will put a thick layer of newspaper down before adding my yard waste every spring. I put all the newspaper down and then wet it down to create a bonded layer instead of individual pieces of paper. Don’t be skimpy either—I open the paper up and lay it down so there are several sheets of paper. Because we live in Northern Colorado, where the wind can pick up at a moments notice, I highly recommend having a layer of organic matter like grass clippings and leaves to put on the newspaper right away. If the organic matter is really dry, try wetting it to help it bond and form more of a layer, rather than leaving it fluffy and dry, since that will blow away as well. I don’t like to add fresh cut grass into my veggie garden but let the Colorado sun cure it for a few days before adding. For more ornamental beds, I put down cardboard first and then cover with wood mulch. The cardboard provides a nice strong barrier for a year or two and is more cost effective than landscape fabric.
I have read articles about minimal maintenance gardening and very few mention this important fact—the minimum layer of two inches of cover. I think this is why people roll their eyes sometimes when I mention mulch. If you have tried it and it didn’t work, try it again with more of it! Minimal maintenance doesn’t mean no work, maintaining the mulch layer can take a bit of time, on an occasional basis, but you aren’t adding mulch as often as you would be weeding and there are many benefits.
Benefits of this approach:
- Improves soil—reduces compaction and encourages the natural biology of the soil
- Maintains moisture—reduces evaporation in summer from heat
- Reduces heat stress on plants by protecting their roots
- Decreases weeds significantly
- Decreases yard waste going into landfills
- Frees up your time
Enjoy your garden and yard instead of pulling weeds this year!