growing your container garden

Four Organic Weed Control Strategies For A Perennial Edible Garden

Combating weeds in the garden can be especially challenging if you are trying to avoid harmful chemicals. Nowhere is this more true than in a perennial edible garden. If you are growing asparagus, rhubarb, walking onions, or other perennial vegetable plants, you need an integrated weed control approach that won't disturb the roots of these long-lived plants. The following strategies can help.

Strategy #1: Cover It Up

Black plastic is a common weed blocking tool in an annual garden, but it doesn't last long enough to make it worthwhile in a perennial bed. Instead, opt for landscape fabric if you want to try this method of smothering the weeds. Begin by pulling every visible weed by hand. Then, lay the fabric over the bed. Cut a large "X" in the fabric wherever it drapes over a plant, so you can poke the plant through the fabric. Fold back the edges so the fabric doesn't touch the plant. Finally, use U-shaped garden stakes to anchor the fabric down around the edges. Moisture can still seep through the fabric, but most young weeds will die, if they even manage to germinate, underneath the cover.

Strategy #2: Manage the Mulch

One benefit of growing perennial vegetables is to opt for a more attractive and long-lasting mulch, since the bed will be in place and relatively undisturbed for many years. Wood mulch, made from chips or or shredded bark, works exceptionally well at smothering weeds, since it blocks light from above and growth from below. Spread the mulch in a layer that is 2 or 3 inches deep so it is thick enough to provide a good smothering cover, but pull it back from the base of the plants so it doesn't rest against their stems. You can combine mulch with fabric for an even better barrier. Mulch decomposes slowly, so you may need to replenish it each spring to maintain the depth. For more information, contact The Bushel Stop or a similar company.

Strategy #3: Schedule Weekly Patrols

Staying on top of weeds is key to controlling them without chemicals. Tour your garden once weekly from spring through fall, and pull up any weed as soon as you notice it. You don't want large weeds to penetrate and tear the fabric barrier, if applicable, so it is best to get them when small. Smaller weeds also have shallower root systems, which makes them easier to pull up by hand.

Strategy #4: Control Your Borders

Some weeds and grass may invade the perennial garden from the borders. Why not install permanent edging, since you planted vegetables that will be growing in the same place for years? Begin by digging a 4- to 6-inch deep trench around the perimeter of the bed. Next, insert rubber edging into the trench so no more than 2 inches sticks up above the surface. Fill in with soil to anchor the edging in place. You can also use stone, bricks, or wood to create edging, but you want to make sure it is buried a few inches deep so it creates a barrier against any weeds that spread by sending out roots.