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I bought a house that came with a rather large (8' x 50') raised (well, raised only 4") garden bed. It is infested with weeds. Last summer I planted some vegetables in it but spent most of the time pulling out weeds. I dumped a bunch of woodchips over the soil to try to help with managing the weeds, and only spread the parts where I was planting my veggies and then covered up around them when they grew taller. It worked somewhat, but I have much more success keeping my used car tire planters, that have fresh soil, weed free.

Assuming that I am not interested in eating chemicals, what is the best way to move forward? My wife wants me to get rid of the tires since they are an eye sore. Should I remove all the existing soil and get new soil? Or should I get more woodchips? Are there any tricks of the trade here? I'm ok starting with a fresh slate and replanting anew.

Thanks

  • I have mostly bindweed and buttercup – swinefeaster Mar 14 '15 at 0:19
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IMPE, the main problem with hand-weeding an 8 foot by 50 foot bed (I did a 5x50 myself once) is that there's way too much in one bed - and the middle is hard to reach. I have re-bedded and shrunk my bed size twice since then.

I'd start with digging 18-24" wide right down the middle, and put in a path there. Now you have two 3 or 3-1/2 foot by 50 foot beds, and you can actually reach the middle of the beds from the paths. Next, divide each 50 foot long bed into 8 to 12 beds - you can just use "lawn edging plastic" if you want to keep the maximum amount of dirt, or you can break it up more with additional cross-paths, or take over more total area but add paths to break it up more but maintain the planting area too.

NOW you have beds of a manageable size, 3-1/2 x 8 feet at the biggest, and you can go out and weed ONE of those, completely, in a reasonable time. Just keep doing that. So long as you keep weeding and never leave a bed so long that the weeds can go to seed, this will work. The more you do it, the faster it gets, because there will be fewer and smaller weeds each time.

I found that I could NOT work a huge bed the same way, precisely because it's huge. Having a defined area with hard edges makes a huge difference.

It's also easier to do things like "solarizing" a bed (cover with plastic to cook pernicious weeds) if it's not the whole garden at once.

Car tire planters have the advantage (per my findings) of having limited area. However, if your wife considers them an immutable eyesore, that's clearly not going to fly. I recall people painting them, and cutting one sidewall/bead, then turning the tire inside out, either or both being considered "a appearance improvement" by people offended by black tires with the tread showing. Your wife may not be convinced, but it might be worth a try.

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Mulch is commonly used to control weeds, as it sounds like you've discovered on your own. Since you have a bad infestation you could use cardboard (or layered newspaper) with wood chips on top to prevent any weeds from seeing the light of day.

Use cardboard without glossy paint, and be sure to poke some holes in it to allow water to drain through. Spread it out everywhere you don't want to plant veggies and cover with wood chips. This approach will allow the soil to keep "living" (i.e. the bacteria and critters in the soil won't be harmed) because air and water can still reach it. The cardboard will break down fairly quickly (worms love it) so you don't need to worry about having to tear it up if you want to change layouts in a year or two.

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You can use black plastic to cover everywhere the plants aren't.

Some people use boiling water to kill weeds and weed seeds (this may kill good bacteria in the soil, too, though, which may be important for your plants, especially cucurbits).

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If you have a small tiller you can till the soil, this will disrupt any perennial weeds, and you then just mulch with compost and weed regularly as normal.

I personally am not a big fan of weeding, those weeds are just as important to the soil as anything else. If they get too tall, I just cut them and lay they down right there where they came from.

Weeds do not pull as much nutrition from the soil as we've been taught...in addition lets go ahead and pretend they do...where do you think this nutrients go, in the air? Well some might in the form of air blown seeds and pollen, but just as much is deposited into your garden from I outside sources. The nutrients fall right back to the ground they came from.

  • Just to comment on my own answer. I am not a fan of tillers very much. I do believe in till once when establishing a brand new bed, but then after that I care for that soil through regular compost mulching. I want those critters in there to have a good home and not torn apart every season. – Escoce Mar 12 '15 at 14:12
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I'm interested in precisely which weeds were growing, that is whether they are considered 'pernicious' weeds - plants such as bindweed, marestail (Equisitum), Japanese knotweed, creeping buttercup, docks or brambles (blackberries) and ground elder. These either need special treatment, or cannot be fully eradicated and are a real problem. Any other weeds are usually easily removed by digging out. If you've got any idea what they might be, that information would be useful for a better answer.

  • Those pernicious weeds can be eradicated, it just takes patience. Continue pulling out rootballs until they stop popping up. It'll take a few years, but it less disruptive to the surrounding soil then other chemical methods. A tiller will disrupt those weeds enough to enable a gardener to just weed them out. Pick the crowns out when the tiller hits them and then just weed normally through the season. – Escoce Mar 12 '15 at 14:09
  • @Escoce - no way will this work with Japanese Knotweed, nor Equisitum - the former has roots which extend 9 feet down into the soil, and any fragment of any part of the plant will grow again. And a tiller will be a boon to bindweed, buttercup and ground elder- it'll spread it further quicker... – Bamboo Mar 12 '15 at 15:22
  • Not if you stay on top of weeding once it's done. The roots need leaves to gain strength, if you keep weeding the tops, the roots will die. It takes about 3 years but it will work. You can use one of those claw tiller, you know the kind with the angled spiky wheels that tear up the surface. Just keep that up, and you'll get rid of the weeds. – Escoce Mar 12 '15 at 16:34
  • @Escoce - I can tell you haven't come across Japanese Knotweed before - it cost over £70 million to clear the Olympic site before construction could start, and this was carried out with people in biohazard suits under controlled conditions. Some mortgage providers in the UK will not grant a mortgage on properties where Japanese Knotweed is within 30 feet of the property - because it'll come up through concrete and your floors inside the house. – Bamboo Mar 12 '15 at 16:44
  • In Iowa, j knotweed was very prolific. As a beekeeper it's a desirable plant, as a Gardner it's not. The difference between weeding and covering is that weeding takes the top off, covering allows the weed to find an egress. – Escoce Mar 12 '15 at 16:47

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