When I first started developing my garden, it seemed so huge and there were just so many weeds I didn’t know where to start. Spraying Roundup where I wanted there to be flower beds helped temporarily, but the weeds just kept coming back and I seemed on an endless cycle of being on my hands and knees hour after hour, weekend after weekend, and by the time I had worked my way around the garden it was time to start all over again. It was soul destroying!
I tried all sorts of different shaped devices all purporting to make the job of pulling out weeds easier, some supposedly eliminating the need to bend down – but you still just had to keep pulling out weeds! I tried a weed wand with some success. My fire-loving ex bought me a flame-thrower – aka a gas-powered weed burner – that he thought was heaps of fun but I found it a bit tedious and not that effective.
Eventually all the pulling out of weeds started to make a difference. Perhaps there is truth in the old saying that “one year’s weeds is seven years’ seeds”. The plants that I had put in were growing and crowding out some of the weeds so weeding didn’t take quite so long but it was still the constant grind of pulling out weeds. I decided that I would plant lots of groundcover plants to cover up all the spare soil and stop the weeds. Well that didn’t work! The groundcover didn’t cover the bits that I wanted them to and grew up things rather than across the bare ground, or refused to grow at all in some places. The weeds still grew well up through the ground cover and it just became more difficult to pull them out.
So I pulled out the ground covers and decided to plant other plants more densely instead. And at that point all the ground covers that had refused to grow before took off from small pieces left in the ground and rampantly covered all the new plants I had put in! It seemed that I was never going to win this battle.
Then I discovered bark mulch – it is wonderful. It really does suppress the weeds and those that do grow are really easy to pull out. But the thing that I like best of all is that it ties a patch of garden all together so that it looks as though it is coordinated and meant to be just like that – rather than just some spindly plants spaced out in the bare dirt. You don’t have to plant densely and it still looks okay. The plants soon grow up and fill in the gaps.
In some areas weed mat was used but I would recommend against that for several reasons. It is great to start with but nothing goes through it (except water). So on the top you get bark and leaves breaking down and forming a nice humus which is good for the soil – except that it doesn’t get to the soil and underneath the weed mat the soil becomes poorer quality. Also it is fine if you are going to leave exactly the same plants there forever, but it is a real nuisance if you want to move things around or plant other things in there as well because you have to keep cutting holes in the weed matting. I have now removed all the weed matting and just rely on a good thick layer of mulch.
It is cheapest if you buy bark mulch in bulk by the trailer load, but you then either have to work like crazy to barrow the mulch all around the garden in one go (friends are good for this) or have a place that you are happy to have a big pile that you distribute over several weekends. I find it much easier to buy it in (recyclable) bags that are easy for me to manage, transport and store – and think that the extra cost is money well spent.
There is one disadvantage of using bark mulch to control weeds and that is that the blackbirds love to toss it everywhere when they are searching for worms. After regularly scooping it back up off lawns and paths, I put in rocks and edging plants with varying degrees of success. In its new incarnation as a productive garden, I have now resorted to putting garden edging around all the beds and that works well. The wood does eventually weather and blend in, and I will put in some plants to hang over some of it and to attract bees.