Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Weed suppression recovery plans

One reader who commented on the post about the community garden in Jackson, Michigan expressed some concern about the ability of a 4" layer of hay being sufficient to kill vigorous sod.

That is a valid concern. Most of us have seen weeds pushing through 3" of freshly laid asphalt pavement. Furthermore, the grass seemed quite healthy in the place where they were putting the garden. That is a good thing because it speaks well of the inherent fertility of the soil. Between the fertility that is already there and the nutrients imported with the hay, that garden has the potential to produce large amounts of high-quality produce. 

I am not going to rain on their parade. I am THRILLED to have new gardeners, especially in cities. They might get lucky and have no problems. But I agree that those gardeners would do well to have some back-up plans for weed control in their hip pocket.

For instance:

  • Many grocery stores will allow you to take cardboard boxes that produce came in. Corrugated cardboard makes pretty good mulch.
  • Many people have pets. Some pet food comes in woven-poly bags that can be used for mulch. Caution, they can be slippery.
  • In urban areas, there are often companies that make signage for billboards. The billboards are rented for a short period of time and then the sign is pulled down. The company who printed the sign (or replaces it) is often responsible for disposing of it. They would love to donate it to gardeners rather than pay to have it hauled away.
  • High-end hay is often wrapped in white, poly, stretch wrap. It can be used as mulch. The poly wrap makes fine mulch after it is removed from the bale of hay.
  • Old carpet can be used for mulch. On trash-day you can often find yards and yards of carpet being left at the curb for the trashman. Sometimes you are extra lucky and it comes pre-impregnated with organic fertilizer.
  • Construction waste. Some forms of construction waste, like tar paper or tyvek sheet can be used for mulch.
  • Power distribution companies pay tree trimmers to keep the power lines clear. The trimmers typically chip the waste into wood chips. If your town was the world headquarters of a medium sized utility company, they might be inclined to "suggest" to their tree trimmers that they drop those wood chips off at your community garden(s).  The possibility of the the utility doing so goes way up if the organizers have a history of thanking benefactors in promotional videos. It costs nothing to be gracious and can pay handsome dividends.
  • And as a rescue measure, somebody probably has a tiller and can cultivate to beat back the weeds and then fresh mulch can be applied.


One of the complications of a venture like a community garden involves governance.

These gardens are often hosted by schools or churches. Some of the staunchest advocates are committed organic methods. The rules-of-engagement must get their buy-in and those rules-of-engagement often preclude the use of herbicides, even initially to kill the sod.

Another governance challenge is that more than half of the enthusiastic, new gardeners will fade down the home-stretch. They will not control the weeds in their plots. They will go to seed and the weeds will invade the plots of more dedicated gardeners.

Issues of poaching other gardener's produce can be an issue. Vandals can suddenly pop up. Simple rules like leaving buckets up-side down to prevent mosquito breeding will be flouted. Some will spray herbicides and insecticides regardless of the rules.

Out of the original group of gardeners, one or two will show promise as leaders. Often they will be the ones who live closest to the plot and will walk through it twice a day. Identifying those people early is important. They will make the project a success and they will give the garden its own, unique flavor.

The long term success of the garden is absolutely dependent upon identifying those local, highly-invested leaders and supporting them.


  1. For gardening advice, Ruth Stout gardening, look it up. She was still feeding her family in her eighties.

  2. Freshly ground wood chips can be pretty acid. Beware using them as mulch until they have sat for a few months.

  3. A few years ago, a big pile of mulch from tree trimming was left at the entrance to my neighborhood free for the taking. It was worthless since it was full of fleas.

  4. It was recently brought to my attention that much of today's hay is sprayed with a persistent herbicide that can kill a garden. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFMVs1pgAi0

  5. Well we wish them the best results. What a shocking surprise to see the effort led by a man in maize and blue.

  6. I've never known hay to be sprayed with herbicides ... it's basically animal feed, fer Christ's sake. A hayfield cut regularly doesn't have much in the way of weed problems. Hay grasses are pretty good at crowding out most other weeds. Hay fields get fertilized and limed, maybe reseeded every 5 years or so. That's about it.

    But hay makes a lousy mulch because the one thing it does have a lot of is grass seeds. It may help temporarily in your garden, but it just compounds your grass/weed problems in future years. This is why straw is a better mulch. No seeds.

  7. Note that due to issues, and demands, with giving away billboard tarps, many companies no longer give them away.
    Some toss them, other sell them to contractors who sell to the public.

  8. I use a cheap black plastic film.
    where I can't use that I put grass clippings and then straw, I don't spread, I keep the squares as whole as possible on top.
    especially around potatoes.

    free range chickens -- I let roam for an hour or 2, near dusk, like to scratch it out though. but they eat the bugs.
    6 of one, half dozen the other, I guess.