Our Completely Ridiculous-Looking Plan to Keep Weeds Out of Our Garden

posted by Andrea | 06/17/2019

After a 5 year garden hiatus, we planted our first garden at our farmhouse 5 summers ago. It wasn’t anything special, but it was “good enough” and we enjoyed having a few home-grown veggies again. 

Since then, we’ve planted some type of garden every spring… but our garden really only looked nice and neat ONE of those years!

The other years, our vegetable gardens ended up way too crowded and completely covered with weeds by fall. 

Sigh…

Part of the problem is that our garden area really isn’t anywhere close to large enough for all the things we’d like to plant

We have a plan to eventually move our garden out to the front yard (possibly with raised beds) but we aren’t ready to implement that quite yet as we know it will be a significant time investment to keep a front-yard garden looking neat and tidy all summer long

SIDE NOTE: if any of you have (or had) a front-yard garden, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it — pros AND cons!

So for the time being, our vegetable garden is tucked back on a little plot of land behind our garage where no one can see it unless they drive ALLLLL the way to the very back of our driveway, past the house and garage! 

We usually do a good job wedding our garden until mid-July when it gets SO hot and humid that we don’t want to be outside unless it’s to swim in the pool. 

Then, it quickly goes down-hill until we pull everything out in October. 

We swear we will do a better job the next year… and we do… until mid-July when the heat and humidity strike again! 

We’ve tried various methods to keep the weeds down but we haven’t had much luck yet: 

  • I don’t like the idea of spraying or spreading chemicals around our vegetables
  • We can’t spread Preen because then our vegetable seeds won’t germinate 
  • We tried straw, but EVERY time we spread straw, we end up growing hay because of seeds that get mixed in with the straw 
  • We’ve tried spreading grass clippings, but that is SO stinky and everything ends up covered with grass (including our feet)
  • We’ve tried pine needles, but that’s makes the soil very acidic
  • We’ve tried diligently weeding (like every single day) but, as I mentioned above, that gets really old by mid-July! 
  • We’ve even tried mulch, but that’s expensive AND then we end up with a bunch of mulch that doesn’t break down in the soil as quickly as leaves and other organic matter does. 

NOTE: if you’re just going for looks, straw definitely looks the best, in my opinion! 

Our Completely Ridiculous-Looking Weed Prevention Plan: 

This year, we’re trying something new — and boy does it look ridiculous! I’m almost a little embarrassed to share pictures on the blog! 

We laid out cardboard over the non-planted areas in hopes that it will prevent weeds from being able reach the soil to germinate! 

We’ve read about it, and apparently it’s a great plan — newspaper apparently also works for this. 

We’ve been saving our cardboard boxes for a couple months now, and after cutting them all open, we laid them out in and around our various plants to cover most of the soil. 

Then we watered the garden REALLY well to soak the cardboard so it wouldn’t blow away (we do have it staked down in a few places).

So far, it seems to be working… but it’s only the middle of June, so only time will tell if it works all season long! 

I normally don’t like to share something on the blog until I’m sure it will work, but since I’ve gotten a fair number of emails asking about weeds in the vegetable garden, I thought it might make sense to share our current system now — with plenty of time for you to put cardboard or newspaper down around your vegetables while they are small. 

NOTE: If you don’t have cardboard, get boxes from Aldi, ask around on Facebook, or look on Craigslist. People are always getting rid of boxes! And remember, layers of newspaper work too!

Of course, we couldn’t put cardboard over the seeded areas (up front by the flags) so I’m not sure what will happen there, but I do think this cardboard method has potential, despite how crazy it looks! 

Plus, it was free, it’s non-toxic, and it’s safe for kids and plants — win, win, win!

I will most definitely write an updated post later this fall — but in the meantime, I’d love to know…

What are your best methods for growing a weed-free vegetable garden? 

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39 comments

  1. Amber Morgan

    06/19/2019

    I wanted to throw out a middle ground (between cardboard & newspaper) that I use: Kraft paper (or butcher’s paper).

    It’s thick enough that you only need a single sheet (instead of multiple layers as with newspaper), and it’s much easier to cut into the spaces in between plants than cardboard. It’s also *much* easier to cut into if you want to add another plant in after it’s already been placed: cardboard’s too thick to cut into without shifting it, and the newspaper gets too easily dislodged. This has been an excellent compromise between the two.

    It’s worked wonderfully for me. It’s been as effective as cardboard for weed control, but will biodegrade more quickly.

    If you get a big roll on Amazon, it’s really cheap, too, and it’s easy to store if you don’t use all of it. I even use it to wrap gifts I have to buy unexpectedly, and throw a cute yarn ribbon on it. Have kids? It’s art paper, too! Also works well to put down on a table before repotting plants. I love how versatile my new weed control item is! 🙂

    I put it down where I like it, soak it, throw mulch down…and done!

    Cheers!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    this is a fantastic idea! Thanks for sharing!
    I always keep roll of butcher block paper in the house as it’s the main thing I use for wrapping gifts! I’ll have to remember this for next year!

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  2. Sheri

    06/18/2019

    The only thing that has worked for me for weed control is bark mulch. I discovered Back to Eden gardening a few years ago and will never go back to any other method for weeds. https://www.backtoedenfilm.com/

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    Andrea Reply:

    ok I’ll look into this too — thanks!

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  3. Joy Eckstein

    06/18/2019

    This is a link to a local organization and the first place heard of this method (scroll to regenerative gardening) https://hopegardensgr.org/about/
    My girls have both participated at their school. Excited to see how it goes for you!

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    Andrea Reply:

    thanks Joy!

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    Julie Brunson Reply:

    We are thrilled to know that your kids participated in our school garden programs.
    Did your home garden do well this year? Did you use the regenerative method?

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  4. Emily Chitwood

    06/18/2019

    I have used cardboard for the last 2 years in between my raised beds and found that it is my best weed control yet. I had some trees taken out 2 years ago and had the company mulch them and leave it for me. I place the cardboard down then place 4 to 6 inches of woodchips on top of it. At the end of the growing season I spray the entire garden with roundup and let it sit all winter. The next spring i shovel what is left of the decomposed woodchips and cardboard into my raised beds and it becomes my layer of compost for the year.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good to know — we might have to look into mulching on top!

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    Maddy Duke Reply:

    FYI I’m not so sure you would want to have that chemical (Roundup) on your vegetables! Also it kills bees!

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  5. lori

    06/18/2019

    I have really small gardens (all over the yard), flower and veggie beds, so weeding isn’t bad – right now, but my husband and I are planning to do a larger raised bed garden next year, so the planning has begun.
    I found a great blog thats all about gardening (and cooking the results) with great topics on “weed Free”, raided beds, cover crops, composting etc – you might be interested in. It’s called Old World Garden Farms – this is the gardening page: https://oldworldgardenfarms.com/eliminating-weeds/ there’s a wealth of information and all tried and true methods.- you might want to check it out and see if there’s anything you can use.
    In the mean time, I hope this works for you this year!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    thanks for the link!

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  6. Sherri

    06/18/2019

    I have used cardboard and I have used newspaper. The newspaper is easier to maneuver into tight spaces. I use several pages at a time. So it is probably actually heavier than the cardboard. I collected the flyers and free paper all winter long. Put it everywhere. Soak it well. Slash a hole big enough for your plant to grow or you can cut it just big enough to start and enlarge later on. Put mulch over top to make it look good and to keep it in place. Because the paper is not shredded it will not really break down. I have the weeds under control now but years later still find chunks of newspaper on occassion. This has worked really well on some really tough weeds.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    thanks for sharing how you do this — very helpful!

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  7. Emma

    06/18/2019

    I am a South Australian transplant in California. In Australia I’ve always used pea straw just from the local hardware store and never had any issues with seeding but I haven’t been able to source any here. And not through lack of trying!! Maybe there is some where you are?

    But this year I bought a heavy duty cross cut paper shredder and am shredding my Amazon boxes and mulching with them. It was a little expensive but It’s actually working better than I could have hoped!! The worms LOVE it, weeds are down and the moisture is staying in the soil. And the boxes are free and (embarrassingly) plentiful…..

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    hmmm… I’ve never heard of pea straw, so I’m guessing it’s not common around here, but I might just have to look into it! Thanks!

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  8. Christine A Macdonnell

    06/17/2019

    The best thing to do after putting down the cardboard is to cover it with mulch. I spray the area first with the vinegar, epsom salt, soap mixture then the cardboard then the mulch and it works great!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    what does the vinegar, epsom salt, and soap mixture do? I feel like that would harm the plants that are trying to grow? I’ve always read never to spray vinegar on (or close to) plants I want to keep alive!

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    DEAL LORI Reply:

    That is to kill existing weeds. I would not apply it on plants you plant.

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  9. Karen S Jerread

    06/17/2019

    To make it a bit more attractive, buy just a bag or two of mulch and lightly cover the cardboard or newspapers. It also helps keep it in place.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, we could do that — might have to look into this if it gets windy!

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  10. Starla Kreider

    06/17/2019

    Last year we invested in landscape fabric from a local landscape company. The rolls are 3′ wide and 100′ long. We cut the pieces to various lengths and pin them down with landscape fabric pins. We place the fabric right next to the planted rows of veggies.
    A friend told me her fabric has lasted for 10 years! It is so nice – the rain gets through but the weeds can’t grow. We bought more fabric this year (my 15 year old son is a serious gardener!!) and it sure beats pulling weeds and wet, yucky straw or grass clippings. It looks neat and tidy and the veggies grow nicely. I’ve been very happy with it.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — that’s a good idea to shred the boxes. Interesting! I wonder if Dave’s school has a heavy-duty shredder!?

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  11. JoDi

    06/17/2019

    Our raised beds have been very easy to keep weed-free (unlike the rest of our yard that prompted me to ask your secret for keeping your flower beds so nice in another post! 🙂 ) I use the square foot gardening method in our beds, and once the plants fill in, it stays weed-free with barely any effort on my part! I think you will be very happy with your beds once you decide to do it!

    I hate weeding once it gets hot and humid too. In spring, when it’s pleasant, it’s a pretty relaxing task while listening to a podcast or audiobook, but in July it’s like torture!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good to know! I also do not mind weeding IF the weather is pleasant! We’re excited about the idea of raised bed, but haven’t taken the initiative to actually create them yet!

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  12. Amy

    06/17/2019

    This definitely works!! I do this in my flower beds and cover with mulch so it looks really nice too. I use 8 sheets of newspaper covered with compost in the vegetable garden. Hardly any weeds!

    [Reply]

    Jen Reply:

    I’ve never in my life had a garden, but this was my thought, too! Why not put straw over the cardboard? It will help keep it in place and also will look nicer.

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    Andrea Reply:

    so our issue with straw is that EVERY time we’ve ever used straw, there are many seed heads that apparently get in with the straw and then we have a whole bunch of hay that starts growing where the straw is laid. So then we’re trying to pull or kill off the hay before it takes over the entire garden. Otherwise, we would have probably just done straw from the beginning as we like the look of straw.

    I suppose that if the straw was laid OVER the cardboard, it might not germinate as well — but I think we’ll just see how the cardboard works on its own first, before we buy any straw this year!

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    Bonnie'sMama Reply:

    If you put straw over the cardboard, the seeds won’t be able to reach dirt. If they sprout at all, they would soon wilt because of having no soil to grow in. Sort of like the seed that fell by the wayside and soon withered.

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    Jen Reply:

    Yes, this was my thinking–that the cardboard would block the straw from reaching the soil. Either way, good luck!

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  13. Ann

    06/17/2019

    Preen works well after the vegetables are a couple inches high! Preen stops the germination of seeds, so it’s best to wait until your veggie plants are up!

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  14. Katie

    06/17/2019

    My dad always had a huge garden and always used cut grass – he mowed 3 acres so grass clippings were always available, and once it’s dry it doesn’t really stick to anything. It may have also not bothered him at all because he always had on socks and usually boots – he wasn’t a flip-flip wearing guy 😉

    In the winter time, he always put the old ashes from the woodstove out in the garden to mix in with the soil. For many years, he also put cow manure out there. He had a super fertile garden after a few years. When we first moved in when I was 7, I spent many springs out there picking rocks!

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    Andrea Reply:

    My parents ALWAYS used grass clippings too — however we don’t collect our grass clippings so we don’t have those available (we mulch that and leave them on the lawn)
    We’ve thought of trying to collect SOME of our clippings to use for a garden — maybe this might be an idea to use in the future. We’ll see how the boxes work for us this year!

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    Katie Reply:

    Oh, he didn’t collect his clipping as he mowed – he would take the time to rake sections of the yard and then haul it to the garden 🙂 that man is a hard core worker. He finally bought himself bagger for his mower one year for his birthday after many, many years of raking.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — that is hardcore! We can sometimes collect a bit of grass off our driveway, but when we mulch it, the grass blades are SO tiny that raking doesn’t really work. I’ll have to mention this to Dave though and see what he thinks.
    Thanks!!

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  15. Alison

    06/17/2019

    I use cardboard covered with mulch. It’s effective and attractive. We also have raised beds.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I love the idea of raised bed — we hope to do something like this eventually (in our front yard) but aren’t “ready” to make that jump yet! Maybe next year!

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  16. Esther

    06/17/2019

    I this.

    This year our neighbor offered to grind old hay and so we are doing your idea of cardboard plus ground hay. I have no idea if the old hay has capability to seed or not. Will find out.

    Also , Wal-Mart or dumps ( ours has it nicely stacked in a boxed trailer) usually are really happy to give u cardboard boxes.

    Question , did u make a point that boxes are not waxed ? I didn’t, but kept reading that others did. Wondering why exactly….

    Thanks for your posts…..

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for the tips! At this point, we had enough boxes that were “not waxed” that we decided to use those exclusively. I’ve read these break down better and faster… that said, I doubt waxed boxes would make that much of a difference (but I don’t know for sure!)

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