We're looking to start a garden on the 'weedless gardening' ideas.
any input on how this works, or if it does work?
Principles - don't disturb the soil to expose seeds, pile on compost/mulch every year to smother weeds.
I'm pretty sure that weed-free gardening doesn't exist...
The idea behind putting a layer of seed-free compost on top of the garden is that annual weed seeds only germinate within about 2" of the soil's surface. Seeds that are buried deeper than that just lay around waiting for a chance to get near the surface. So the annual weeds are minimized by covering the garden with mulch. However, the wind blows weed seeds into the garden. The birds drop seeds into the garden complete with a bit of fertilizer for each seed. The irrigation water brings seeds into my garden. And any plant that is allowed to grow in the garden may produce propagules. Some weed varieties produce several generations of seed per year. So first thing in the spring, a layer of compost can really minimize the annual weeds. Nevertheless, this method still requires regular weeding to keep the weeds that do show up from multiplying.
Perennial weeds are perfectly happy sending up shoots through many inches of mulch. People sometimes put a layer of cardboard onto the garden and then cover that with mulch, hoping that the cardboard will stop or slow down the perennials.
Mulch is often quite coarse. That can make weeding more difficult, because you might end up crawling along pulling weeds by hand instead of standing up and using a weeding tool like a standard hoe or a wheeled hoe. Fine textured mulch on top of rocky soil makes weeding much easier.
Weedless gardening is just the title. In reality, it means drastically reduced weeds. You supposedly can limit your weeding to a few minutes a week or so. The author claims that sufficient early mulching (even using compost as mulch) will leave lower seeds dormant, whereas tilling - which seems to get rid of weeds - actually just turns up enormous quantities of weeds and destroys the fine soil structure - including layers of beneficial humus, micro-organisms and capillary water veins.
Has anyone tried this?
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
My sister does her garden that way... It's a lot of expense and work to buy and install the compost. First thing in the spring her garden looks great. By the end of the season she has let her busy life, full of school age children, keep her from doing sufficient maintenance weeding. By fall it looks like any other weedy garden. She has rocky soil, so applying the compost goes a long way to making weeding easier.
Gotta vet the compost properly. My brother tried it on his garden, but the compost must have been full of herbicides or undecomposed wood, because his garden failed that year.
As far as I can tell, tilling only brings large quantities of weed seeds to the surface if they are there to start with. If weeds are not allowed to go to seed in a garden then they are not contributing seeds to the soil. If you are only dealing with wind blown and animal transported seeds then that's easy weeding.
This same sort of scenario is achieved in my garden by shallow cultivation. During the growing season I don't turn the soil over. I am careful to only disturb the top 1/4" to 1/2" of soil. The best time to kill a weed seed is the day before it emerges from the soil... They die super easy at that time... How can I tell? Just by watching... Turning over a bit of soil and if it's full of weed seedlings that are all but emerged then I go ahead and hoe the patch. Sometimes I feel silly -- weeding a patch with no visible weeds -- but it sure is easy weeding, and it sure works for me emotionally. I think of it as making love to the garden. Weeding is so sensual to me: the sun, the wind, the fresh air, the rhythm, my strong body getting stronger and more toned.
If you have bare soil something will grow there. Mulch or cover crop where you don't want plants after the soil has warmed and dried out to the point where you want to conserve what moisture is still in the soil.
I mulch with leaves if possible and wood chips if not. Rake them off in the spring to warm and dry the soil.
Freely broadcast cheap seeds like lettuces, radish, dill, basil early in the season. Let lots go to seed.
I see you're starting a garden. A great way is to start small in a long strip the first year and put a border of patio stone(18" square - big enough to cover ground, light enough to move easily) on top of grass and let it sit for a year as the garden border.
The next spring I pull up the stones and move them over to the next row of grass. The soil under the stones is already pretty good, no weed seeds or grass left.
Weeds are in your mind. You can use mulch etc. to give the plants you really want to grow a head start. If weeds other plants poke through, well, as long as they're not pulling down your plants or otherwise directly interfering with growth, they have a use, too, as part of your permaculture system to create organic matter and catch sun.