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We have several flower beds that are mulched. The problem with mulch is that if you buy it every year, it's quite expensive ($300-$500/year for us). And if you don't buy it every year, you get a lot of weeds and the weeds are quite hard to remove - they form sort of a surface-level web of roots that cannot be simply picked out without disrupting the bed (usually with a small digging tool).

It occurred to me it would be easier and/or cheaper to have dirt and just run a hoe over it once a week to remove young weeds. But I think to do that I'd have to remove all the mulch and also cut out the landscaping paper. Does anyone have experience doing this? Will I regret doing this and be going back to mulch or stone in a couple years?

  • What type of mulch are you currently using? – michelle Aug 19 '15 at 14:19
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Hard to say whether you'll regret it or not, depends how much you hate weeding and whether you can discipline yourself with ease to actually go out every weekend and do it.

I loathe weeding, but never use membrane (landscape fabric)on open ground and only occasionally use a mulch (but then I'm in the UK, we get more damp weather, though not so much here in the South). Any mulch is usually put down in spring on bare soil and will be organic in nature - the aim is to both feed the soil over time, reduce or remove the need for digging, and keep moisture in. I design the planting so that it spreads out and barely any soil will be seen within 3-4 years, and that reduces weeding significantly. I don't like landscape fabric in planted areas for a couple of reasons - it prevents 'spreader' (ground cover and perennial) plants like Lamium and low growing campanulas from spreading out and filling the soil, and it doesn't resolve completely the issue of weed growth, particularly if there's a pernicious weed such as bindweed present - that just makes its way to the nearest gap and appears there. A third reason is when you want/need to change or replace plants, or to dig up and divide perennials - its a pain with a membrane in the way, and you've already mentioned another:- if there's insufficient mulch on top - the 'mat' of spreading weed roots.

But, and it's a big but, if your planting isn't capable of spreading out, or there's insufficient planting to fill the flowerbed, then you'll be doing a lot of weeding ongoing...

The other option is to buy pebbles or stones for mulching on top of the membrane with - but they don't add anything to the soil and are even more of a pain if weeds do get through, because then you've got to shift the stones and the membrane to deal with them.

And yes, if you wanted to return to bare soil, you'd need to remove the membrane/landscape fabric. If the mulch is organic (bark chips, composted manure, whatever), that can just be put back on to the soil, doesn't matter if it gets turned in by a hoe over time, it'll add humus anyway.

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I also dislike the mats. I would remove the mat and keep the mulch. The method of weeding that it sounds like you want to do is just simply turn the top few inches of soil. If you do that with mulch you'll get the same result while still feeding your plants as the mulch breaks down. (As mentioned above). If you really want to go back to dirt why not just pull your fabric and then get a small tiller to till the mulch into the soil. Let the mulch break down over time and then you'll have just dirt.

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