Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
September, 2004
Regional Report

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This weedy bed is quickly transformed by using the newspaper and mulch technique.

Reviving a "Lost Cause" Garden for Fall

If your garden spot has become a weed-infested wilderness where even the family cat fears to tread, now is the time to clean up your act! Your options are: 1) Move to a new home, 2) Enlist the air force to do a Napalm fly-over, 3) Foolishly take on the weeds yourself with a rototiller, knife (to cut the entangled weeds off the tines), and the patience of Job, 4) Give up gardening until next spring, or 5) Try what I'm about to suggest.

Step-By-Step Weed Erasing
1. First, check the garden spot for perennial weeds, such as nutgrass, bermudagrass, or wild blackberry. Perennial weeds should be destroyed by digging or with an appropriate, low-toxicity herbicide application. Such persistent weeds must be eliminated or they will continue to take over the garden. You can either deal with them now or put things off to deal with a greater problem later.

2. Next, remove any stakes, wire cages, or other debris from the garden and mow the weeds to the ground! A weedeater works great for smaller areas.

3. Once you've cut the jungle down to the ground, water the spot well to thoroughly soak the soil. This should take about an inch of water so use a rain gauge or straight-sided container to determine how long you need to run the sprinkler.

4. Then unfold sections of newspaper and place them about four to six sheets thick over the planting beds. Overlap the edges of the newspaper as you lay it to make sure no sunlight will reach the ground. Have a hose and spray nozzle on hand to wet the paper with water as you lay each section to prevent it from blowing away as you work.

5. Cover the newspaper with leaves, pine needles or a thin (1-inch) layer of grass clippings to hide the paper and hold it in place. You can also use compost but it will take quite a bit to cover the paper.

This process is fast and quite easy and works like a charm. What was a hideous mess standing as a testament to your neglect can (in a jiffy) become a beautiful, mulched bed -- a tribute to your faithful diligent care of the garden!

In a few weeks you will find the weedy remains well on their way to decomposing beneath the paper mulch. They will soon return their nutrients to the soil, a fitting ending for a weed! The roots of the weeds will provide aeration channels into the soil, improving its condition for plant growth.

When it's time to plant, set transplants through holes torn in the paper, or drop in seeds and cover them with a little compost or rich garden soil. Your weed problems will be largely eliminated for the duration of the fall and winter season, and you'll be pleased with the way your plants grow. By next spring the paper will be decomposed if you top it with a mulch of leaves, hay, or pine needles. You can rototill it in then or just repeat the paper and mulch process for spring.

I know this technique sounds unconventional, but it works. Give it a try!

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