Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
August, 2008
Regional Report

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Lay weed barrier cloth in large swaths whenever possible.

Covering Ground

Mulch does its job, but there are places in the garden that need more to keep weeds at bay. Nothing is less attractive than a weedy bed, unless it is a weedy walkway. The nicest pathway goes invisible if allowed to sprout whatever grasses and broadleaf plant seeds lurk deep in the soil. Likewise, a permanent shrub border does not benefit from the competition from weeds poking through the mulch. A selection of living ground covers works well, and so does weed barrier cloth, if you do it right. Each approach to covering ground that does not need to be cultivated continuously has its advantages.

Organic Mulch
Organic mulch about 2 inches deep around anything but the lawn helps to moderate the soil moisture content, prevents soilborne organisms from washing up onto the plants, and suppresses weeds. It is a necessity in gardens in our region and is often used alone to create a base for stepping stones or other path materials. Living ground covers can enhance the mulch effects as long as you provide adequate water and fertilizer. They can bring blooms, interesting leaves, and seasonal color to the area.

Fabric Mulch
Woven weed barrier cloth should be laid very flat, stretched tight, and secured with wire staples made for the task. The cloth is available in different fabrics that last anywhere from 10 to 30 years. It comes in several widths to accommodate different sized gardens. Water passes through readily, and it's easy to cut slits or X's in the cloth to plant through it.

The only downside to covering the ground with anything besides mulch is this: it limits the option of mixing organic matter into the soil to the area immediately around a plant. I fold back the cloth, sprinkle in some compost, work it in, and recover the area -- a time-consuming task that fortunately isn't a weekly garden chore. It's worth the extra effort, though, to keep the weeds down and out.

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