Maintain a Weedless Organic Garden

The keys to a weedless organic garden are limited tilling, permanent beds and paths, organic mulch and drip irrigation.

| June/July 2007

Weedless gardening! That’s an oxymoron, an impossibility, right? Well, my gardens may not be 100 percent weed-free, but they are 100 percent free of weed problems.

I’ve achieved this happy state in four ways: 1) never tilling or otherwise disturbing the soil, so dormant weed seeds stay asleep, away from light and air; 2) designating permanent areas for walking and for planting to avoid compaction and the need for tillage; 3) maintaining a thin mulch of weed-free organic material to snuff out any weed seeds that blow in or are dropped into the garden by birds; 4) using drip irrigation whenever watering is called for to avoid promoting weed growth in paths and between widely spaced plants. Those are the basics of keeping my garden free of weed problems. Over the years I’ve honed some details of this weedless gardening system, and I’d like to share them with you.


A particularly nice aspect of this weedless gardening system is how much it simplifies fertilization. I rarely use commercial fertilizer. It’s not that my plants don’t need food, it’s just that the slow and steady decomposition of the organic mulches fulfills most of my plants’ nutrient needs.

Where extra nitrogen might be needed, I use soybean meal, which supplements the diet of young trees, bushes and intensively grown vegetables. The soybean meal is inexpensive, readily available at farm and feed stores, and only needs to be applied once a year. The nitrogen in soybean meal applied anytime from late autumn to late winter will not leach out of the soil during the cold months, but begins to release as spring’s moisture and warmth awakens hungry plants. For plants that regularly need that extra nitrogen, I spread 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet. Other meals, such as cottonseed or alfalfa meal, can be used similarly, but generally cost a little more.

If your soil is naturally poor, you may want to apply other nutrients as fertilizers, such as phosphorus and potassium, until organic mulches decompose and build up a reserve of those nutrients in the soil. Bone meal, seaweed and wood ashes are all good sources of phosphorus and potassium.

Because most of my gardens’ fertility comes from organic mulches, I tailor which mulch I use to the particular plant’s needs. Generally, this involves nothing more than using nutrient-rich mulches for plants that are heavy feeders, and other mulches for light feeders. Two nutrient-rich mulches for my vegetables are compost and grass clippings; I make both right here at home.

6/2/2014 3:02:17 PM

Yesterday I saw the formula for weed killer 1 Gallon of Vinegar,2cups EPSON SALTS and ????.

Debi Kae
7/23/2007 2:25:46 PM

This was a great article on Weedless Gardening. I can't wait to give it a try.

7/13/2007 11:15:36 PM

I love it that I can look up MEN articles on line when I've misplaced the magazine!!! And I love it that you're in KS!

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