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Woven weed suppressant covers - do they work/what do you use to starve weeds of sun?

 
Samuel Morton
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Location: West London, UK
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Finally taken on my own plot and am about to start clearing away the weeds.

After cutting them all back I am going to try to cover the growing areas with something that will suppress the weeds and as I go along I will only uncover the area when I start working on it which should make it more manageable.

The plot is 250 square metres.

I was just wondering if anyone has bought those woven weed suppressant covers and if they work/what did you buy and use to block out the sun to weaken large areas of weeds on your plot?

Thanks for your time,

Samuel
 
Michael Cox
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Don't go anywhere near that woven mesh stuff. It is a dreadful product - you may kill weeds in the short term, but longer term they bust through it, or grown on top of it in your mulch and eventually the fibres all separate and you end up with strands all through your soil. They will be with you forever. We moved into this house around 10 years ago and I'm still pulling strands of the stuff up out of the beds.

Mulching to kill off weeds and grasses is very effective - I've been doing a lot of it this year, although it sounds like you are trying to a much larger area at once. Personally I have used thick layers of newspaper topped with woodchip to good effect. The beauty of paper + chips is that you don't need to pull it all off again to plant, just plant straight through it.

Take a look at this video:
Back To Eden - wood chip gardening - feel free to ignore the overtly christian message and focus on the mulch.
 
Charles Tarnard
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If you're looking to kill off a field quickly and then remove it to go to work (if you don't want to raise your land with mulch, for instance), I'd go with black plastic. If building a mulch and then planting into it is suitable, I'd go with Mr. Cox' suggestion. If newspaper is too much of a PITA to collect or lay down, I've used red rosin paper to good effect. It is reasonably inexpensive and does a good job.

I am in the process of ripping out all the weed block in our yard and the woven stuff is the worst. The stuff that managed to stay clear of grass roots was fine, the stuff with grass roots is currently sitting in a pile while I try to decide how to dispose of it.

 
Alder Burns
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I've used old carpets to good effect for this purpose....leaving them in place for a full season, and then removing them to another place. Where I intend to plant through it in the short term I use cardboard. For serious weeds I try to find the biggest pieces possible....furniture and bedding store dumpsters are good for this. I have subdued shoulder-high blackberries this way by first rolling them flat with a barrel laid on its side....
 
Michael Cox
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Great idea with the barrel!
 
K Nelfson
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Michael Cox wrote:
Mulching to kill off weeds and grasses is very effective - I've been doing a lot of it this year, although it sounds like you are trying to a much larger area at once. Personally I have used thick layers of newspaper topped with woodchip to good effect. The beauty of paper + chips is that you don't need to pull it all off again to plant, just plant straight through it.


I think it is wise to avoid paper in this sort of application. Although it is very popular these days to use newsprint, I worry about what's leaching out of the paper. Sure, the ink may be "soy" but it's stuck on the paper with something. And what about the finishing compounds that are used on paper? I'm not familiar with newsprint in particular but I understand that office paper is treated with various clays and other chemicals to make it look white as snow. I don't even burn the stuff anymore.

I don't know why people use these alternative methods for weed control. Put on some gloves, pick up your favorite hoe and check on the garden frequently. If you can't be bothered to look at the garden every few days, why are you gardening? Sure, weeding is work but it's light work indeed if you keep up with it.

 
Charles Tarnard
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K Nelfson wrote:
Michael Cox wrote:
Mulching to kill off weeds and grasses is very effective - I've been doing a lot of it this year, although it sounds like you are trying to a much larger area at once. Personally I have used thick layers of newspaper topped with woodchip to good effect. The beauty of paper + chips is that you don't need to pull it all off again to plant, just plant straight through it.


I think it is wise to avoid paper in this sort of application. Although it is very popular these days to use newsprint, I worry about what's leaching out of the paper. Sure, the ink may be "soy" but it's stuck on the paper with something. And what about the finishing compounds that are used on paper? I'm not familiar with newsprint in particular but I understand that office paper is treated with various clays and other chemicals to make it look white as snow. I don't even burn the stuff anymore.

I don't know why people use these alternative methods for weed control. Put on some gloves, pick up your favorite hoe and check on the garden frequently. If you can't be bothered to look at the garden every few days, why are you gardening? Sure, weeding is work but it's light work indeed if you keep up with it.



I don't want to speak for the OP, but there's a few places in my yard where once I started losing the battle to weeds(usually grass, actually) the time required to run around and chase it outweighed the time I had to get anything else in order. Once I'm properly mulched in I do pull the weeds by hand.

I'm baby stepping this permie thing. First is get the soil ready without -icides. Then it's make my house more efficient.Down the list for more is remove every possible source of toxins. That list is too daunting for me to tackle without having so much other stuff in order first.

There may be toxins in the paper, but there may also be toxins in the woods mulch, the garden tools, and quite frankly the plants. I can't worry about it all.
 
K Nelfson
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Chad Tarnard wrote:
K Nelfson wrote:
Michael Cox wrote:
Mulching to kill off weeds and grasses is very effective - I've been doing a lot of it this year, although it sounds like you are trying to a much larger area at once. Personally I have used thick layers of newspaper topped with woodchip to good effect. The beauty of paper + chips is that you don't need to pull it all off again to plant, just plant straight through it.


I think it is wise to avoid paper in this sort of application. Although it is very popular these days to use newsprint, I worry about what's leaching out of the paper. Sure, the ink may be "soy" but it's stuck on the paper with something. And what about the finishing compounds that are used on paper? I'm not familiar with newsprint in particular but I understand that office paper is treated with various clays and other chemicals to make it look white as snow. I don't even burn the stuff anymore.

I don't know why people use these alternative methods for weed control. Put on some gloves, pick up your favorite hoe and check on the garden frequently. If you can't be bothered to look at the garden every few days, why are you gardening? Sure, weeding is work but it's light work indeed if you keep up with it.



I don't want to speak for the OP, but there's a few places in my yard where once I started losing the battle to weeds(usually grass, actually) the time required to run around and chase it outweighed the time I had to get anything else in order. Once I'm properly mulched in I do pull the weeds by hand.

I'm baby stepping this permie thing. First is get the soil ready without -icides. Then it's make my house more efficient.Down the list for more is remove every possible source of toxins. That list is too daunting for me to tackle without having so much other stuff in order first.

There may be toxins in the paper, but there may also be toxins in the woods mulch, the garden tools, and quite frankly the plants. I can't worry about it all.


Agreed. You have to start somewhere. I'm just cautious about how the dirt is treated. The wrong choice can take many years to correct. So many of the other permie objectives depend on usable soil that I thought I'd bring this up.

 
S Carreg
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Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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I took on a 200 sq meter allotment that was waist-high in couch-grass and other weeds, and I now have a 4.5 acre piece of land that hasn't grown anything productive in decades. Without sheet mulching there is simply no way either of these projects would have been possible for us. It's all very well and good to say 'just pull the weeds up' - but when you're starting with waist-high invasive perennials, I think that is actually a poor option compared to aggressive sheet mulching.

My personal experience - you get what you pay for with woven weed fabric. The GOOD (expensive) stuff is fine for a few years, just roll it up carefully when you are ready to cultivate. The cheap stuff won't last a season before weeds punch through it and/or the strands start to deteriorate. Thick black plastic doesn't deteriorate as quickly but it doesn't let through water either so IMO isn't great for areas where you are aiming for nice growing medium. My preferred option for future planting areas is corrugated cardboard - easy to get lots for free, bike shops are an especially good source because they come in large sheets. Several layers of cardboard topped with woodchip, grass clippings, rotten hay, old straw, manure, and whatever else you can get, and pretty soon you'll be ready to plant right through it. Do make sure that you mulch out a good radius beyond what you are hoping to plant up, if you can, to stop weeds from crawling in under the edges.

I would never use carpet in a planting area for two reasons - 1, it disintegrates and is then completely impossible to remove. On my allotment there were bits of horrible old carpet that were 10+ years old and impossible to get out as they just crumbled in your hands. and 2, it really is full of the foulest chemicals. Personally I'm not at a stage where I can get that worked up about the treatments in the cardboard (although I don't use bleached stuff), but carpet, blergh, just no. I have however used carpet to weigh down 6 mm thic black plastic in an area where I am trying to mulch out an invasive perennial, but where I have no intention of ever growing food plants. I'm hoping that when I'm done with it the plastic will maintain enough integrity that I can roll it all up together.
 
Michael Cox
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Chad Tarnard wrote:

I don't want to speak for the OP, but there's a few places in my yard where once I started losing the battle to weeds(usually grass, actually) the time required to run around and chase it outweighed the time I had to get anything else in order. Once I'm properly mulched in I do pull the weeds by hand.

There may be toxins in the paper, but there may also be toxins in the woods mulch, the garden tools, and quite frankly the plants. I can't worry about it all.


This is the point exactly - if you are reclaiming land, or really struggling with a neglected region, then hand weeding is simply not time effective. With paper and mulch i can probably clear about ten times the area than simple digging and handweeding. In practice i have probably cleared about five times the area and still saved on time - time which i have spent planting veggies in that otherwise unproductive land, or playing with my son 14 month old son.

Is it perfect, possibly not (although i don't personally agree with the premise that newsprint or cardboard does any harm worth of discussion - anyone got any EVIDENCE that toxins from paper, as applied under mulch for weed control are harmful - not personal anecdotes, an actual controlled experiment) - but it is hightly effective, and i'm growing more of my own food as a result. Do i think my own food has fewer 'toxins' than shop bought vegetables? HELL YES.

Frankly the whole 'toxin' discussion is rather bizzare - the idea of toxins and 'detox' was created by the beauty industry to sell a product (detox treatments, fad wonderfoods, antioxidants etc...). Before some marketing whizz cooked it up the concept simply didn't exist. Certainly not in the way people talk about it now. If you actually dig beneath the rhetoric no one can actually specify what these toxins are, or how they act, or how changing your diet/behaviour/cleaning products/etc... will actually change your health in any meaningful way.

Now i'm not saying that there are not compounds that are harmful (eg pesticides) or that a moderate approach isn't sensible (eg mulching and handweeding rather than drowning your garden in roundup), but the obsessive exclusion of 'toxins' or even 'possible toxins' from absolutely every aspect of our lives is unrealistically unobtainable. I fear that it will put off the more moderate amoungst us - those who are looking at permaculture as a path but don't feel that going round worrying about 'toxins' is for them.

There was a thread recently about blackwidows in a garden, and fear keeping the children from playing outside. Here is a rational, easily understood threat to health yet the discussion in that thread came down to 'let your kids play in the garden, the alternative (keeping them inside) is worse'. On the flip side i've seen post after post in this thread and others taking the line that 'toxins in newspaper will destroy your soil' with no evidence of harm, or even potential to harm and advocating fairly extreme measures to avoid using an effective and pragmatic method that can help get many people started on a path towards permaculture. Balanced?

I could ramble on further at this point, but i'll get back to the original post now:

Avoid plastic mesh - there is a real risk that it will shred and disintegrate in your soil and cause you problems for many years.
Mulching over weeds is highly effective for clearing weeds and reclaiming land - your call on whether you want to use paper/cardboard etc...
If in doubt, try a small test area and see what happens.

Mike
 
K Nelfson
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I share your skepticism about "toxins".

However, it is possible to damage soil in ways that are hard to fix. For example, when researching gray-water systems, I found out that boron is a common ingredient in detergents and it can build up in the soil. I understand that some compounds wash out of the soil faster than others (like HPLC) and boron, certain salts, and other compounds can stick around for years. As far as scientific evidence, I do not know of anyone studying permie-style mulching. So I don't see much evidence for or against newsprint as mulch.

I guess I'll err on the side of caution. You're welcome to do whatever you please on your land. As was implied above, it is rather a fine point and I'd hate to start an argument about it.

I think the best choice for this type of mulch is corrugated cardboard with labels and packing tape removed. At least, that's what I use.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
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That woven stuff is a real bummer, I made that mistake years ago and will never repeat it.

I use what I can get my hands on. For the gardens I use cardboard with woodchips or straw/spoiled hay on top, when solarizing to get a handle on weeds I use tarps or plywood.

Carpet is a cool idea. I've seen paths done very nicely this way.
 
Michael Cox
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Be careful with carpet - cheap ones used a woven plastic fiber mesh. It breaks down in a similar way to the black woven stuff. I know because i had to dig a lod out of my mother-in-law's compost heap. She had used it on top at some stage then buried it under more clippings etc...
 
K Nelfson
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What about carpet that's used for creating ponds? That's popular in the permie community.
 
leila hamaya
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i agree about sheet mulching with cardboard, with lots of organic matter on top lasagna style.

since adopting this method my results have vastly improved, and i find it is the easiest way to go...as far as not much weeding. after a couple years the weeds start to come back, but then you can sort of let the good ones grow and keep on top of the ones you you dont want. plus the weeds coming back basically says to me- time to put more sh!t on it ! or well ...straw, wood chips, leaves, etc....

i disagree that there is a lot of toxins in the cardboard/newsprint, theres a little but not in an amount that the soil cant work it out quickly.
IMHO, of course.

i have said this before, but am not offended in the slightest if anyone doubts it, but the toxins from paper/cardboard mainly happens at the paper making site...where the cardboard is made. (besides the printed fancy plastic printed ones which shouldnt be used)

unfortunately the soil and area surrounding paper mills is HORRIBLE with what is dumped from the paper making/cardboard making.

an organic totally non toxic paper/cardboard could be made which was effective, but that is not the current practice, using fiber plants. there are some companies that do make this specialty paper , as i have seen but not ever felt inspired to spend money on some kind of alternative sheet mulching paper....

though for thousands of years paper was made from materials like these which do not need chemicals and the like....and wood pulp paper was not made until the last couple hundred years...it has unfortunately been made into a kind of standard "normal" materials to make paper, which it is not particularly suitable for. it is more done because its a by product of lumber mills...but wood is not a very good fiber for making cardboard, and requires chemicals and LOT of processing.

when using better fiber plants there is no need for chemicals and the process does not produce toxins at the site.

a different thought- i have seen some basic instructions on how to make your own woven mat out of weeds and straw that you have. sounds a bit intensive, but an interesting idea for a particularly difficult area.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I have used an open weave burlap as a weed puller on a fine seedbed. Weeds easily come up through burlap that is laid out like mulch. Once they get big enough to not slide through the holes easily, the burlap is ripped up quickly which pulls the majority of the weeds. They are pretty easy to remove from the burlap once they wilt.

Rather than suppressing the weeds, it facilitates bulk removal. It looks like weedy sod.
 
Michael Cox
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Burlap sounds interesting - presumably not so good for perennial weeds with established roots though.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Michael Cox wrote:Burlap sounds interesting - presumably not so good for perennial weeds with established roots though.


It worked well on a fine seedbed where new lettuce and broccoli were planted in tight rows that eventually filled the entire space. You need lots of burlap for this method. After removal, it can be laid in place again to shade the soil and it can be folded in half as row width shrinks. Weeds grow around it but are thus concentrated for easy removal. I only did it one year in a small garden. A windfall of burlap scraps, prompted the experiment. Slugs sheltered under it, but weren't a problem since they were mostly interested in mulch materials and not the food crops. I didn't have chickens to eat them.
 
Ken Peavey
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I once had a stand of Pompous Grass that had to go. This was back in the day before I learned the land was important.
I chopped it down, then mowed it flat. It came back.
I chopped it down, mowed it flat, covered it with a folded tarp for a month. It came back.
I chopped it down, mowed it flat, dug up the roots, poured gas on top, burned brush in the pit for 2 hours, shovelled out the pit, covered it with a folded tarp, then bought a house and moved away, just in case it came back.

Yes, that is a true story.

Nowadays, I cover stuff I dont want with leaves and grass clippings, make some compost right on top of what I don't want. I've done just a thick layer of leaves, but over time, they will break down and allow some grasses and weeds to pop back up. I'm not so worried about it-they will pull up pretty easily by that point.
I use the floor mat from my truck in front of the grill. It does the job and is about the only place I don't want stuff to grow. I've got room to be flexible around here. If something wants to grow so badly that smothering won't kill it off, I figure it is tough enough to stay.
 
Lyvia Dequincey
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I think that the utility of cardboard and carpet depend on factors you have yet to mention. In a rainy environment, cardboard will break down faster. the carpet will likely degrade in UV light, and last longer in shade. It also depends what kind of weeds. I've got bindweed and japanese stiltweed. It pulls out pretty quickly. Taproots would take a different approach. SO how much rain, sunlight? what kind of weeds?

(challenge typing with dog in lap!)
 
Charles Tarnard
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Here's a couple pics I took today after removing some weedblock. The first is a hole where no weed blocking was happening, the second is a shot I tried to take of the area under the weedblock. I didn't think to take the picture till after I put some wood mulch down so it's hard to see the soil desolation, but it's there. You can also see what looks like a little rat burrow. This is in an area where I have been watering a lot, so the lack of moisture there was surprising.




 
Johan Fuglevik
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I use newspapers and the worms love eating it. Unfortunately the badger loves eating the worms so everything gets messy.

I once worked at a factory we would put lots of cardboard covered with chemicals in the paper trash for recycling, the fees for paper trash being much lower than the unsorted stuff.
That might be a source for toxins in countries where newspapers contain some recycled paper.

With textiles I would be worried about possible flame retardants.
 
Matu Collins
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I would only want to use carpet that was made of wool or cotton.

What about plywood? Especially old bent plywood that has lost utility as a building material.
 
Nicholas Mason
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I completely agree that using plastic, woven fabric, or carpet sounds like a bad idea. And I have been known to use cardboard or newspaper from time to time. I think that the less pulling of weeds the better. I think that we need to remember that weeds are growing in certain areas for a reason. They are mining nutrients that out garden plants need, or compacting the soil or many other things. By pulling them out we are removing bio mass and disturbing the soil.
That being said I do see value in tilling or disturbing the soil for the initial garden setup. followed by heavy mulching after seedlings start to grow. Another option which I feel is a better choice is to use pigs. I recently did that on a new garden area that I was making. I ran two pigs in a smaller area, allowing them to rut up the weeds. I then followed this with horse poop, leaves, and straw. Through out the growing season I chop and drop the weeds that come up. But the continual addition of mulch is key.
My end of season plans are to run my rabbits through in my rabbit tractor to eat everything down, then cover crop (maybe). After the cover crop finishes growing I will cut it down and then add lots and lots of mulch.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I fought with some of this stuff today. It was buried under 3 inches of muddy gravel. It had just as much growth as the sod beside it. Notice the roots. I like boards, laid flat. The slugs gather there.
IMAG4177.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMAG4177.jpg]
 
Charles Tarnard
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I just found a new reason to hate this stuff. My rain barrels have been overflowing after a day and a half of heavy rain. I was noticing puddles forming up around my barrels near some foundation so I went and dug out some trenches far enough that if the water fills it up it'll soften the dirt enough that I'll be able to run it out a little further with ease. After digging the trench nothing was happening. When I went to investigate I found a small chunk of not-yet-removed woven 'weed block' that was creating the flood conditions. This was on both of the flooding barrels! As soon as I cleared the fabric the moisture started to absorb into the soil, then flow with the trench. I am not even certain I would have needed to dig the trench if it weren't for the weed block.

Rage. Fury. Argh. Thank you for your time.
 
Samuel Morton
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Cheers for your replies guys (sorry for the delay!)

I've found a nice chap who is in charge of a warehouse and so I will be getting lots of cardboard and using that.

I have used the mesh but I intend to make it as temporary as possible until I get my hands on a motherload of cardboard!

Samuel
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