If you want to avoid chemical weedkillers but don’t like the idea of hand hoeing or bouncing along behind a rototiller, you still have options to keep weeds from taking over your garden. Although we are heading into the fall season, keep these ideas handy for next spring’s planting season.
For starters, there are mulches, which can smother weeds. Pile organic mulches such as leaves, grass clippings, or wood chips a few inches deep over the ground to slow evaporation of water from the soil and keep it cooler. Be careful not to pile mulches right up against young plants or their stems might rot.
Organic mulches decompose over time, so they need regular replenishment. That’s not a bad thing, because their decomposition feeds beneficial soil microorganisms and releases nutrients for plant use. These mulches also enrich the soil with humus, which helps keep soils moist and well-aerated.
Synthetic mulches are another way to quell weeds. Black plastic is the most common. It is easy to lay down, effectively suppresses weeds, and hastens warming of the soil in spring. Recent experiments with other colored plastic films have shown effects on both pests and plant growth. A reflective plastic mulch, for example, keeps aphids at bay.
A big disadvantage of plastics is that they break apart over time, so they eventually need to be disposed of. Plastic mulch also can cause problems due to poor soil aeration, and it adds nothing to the soil as far as nutrients or humus or stimulating beneficial