Beat the weeds with a “stale seed bed”

Winter annual weeds like chickweed, henbit, and deadnettle can quickly overrun early planting beds. Turning these weeds under brings more weed seeds to the surface to germinate and the healthy winter annual weeds sometimes reestablish after turning with a fork or spade. I tried a different approach this year after I read Jerry Brust’s article about using heavy duty weed barrier to smother weeds (grassy and broadleaf) to create a stale seed bed. The weeds die leaving their residues and few new weeds germinate when the barrier is removed because the soil is not disturbed. Hence the term, “stale seed bed.”
In mid-April I purchased 3-ft. wide heavy duty weed barrier from a greenhouse supply company, cut it to fit three beds, and secured the pieces with landscape pins. I had sown barley and oats in these beds in the fall. The plants winterkilled (no kidding) and the meager residues left in the spring were no match for the weeds.
Three weeks later I removed the weed barrier and found everything dead except for some quackgrass. I planted tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber, melon, and sunflower transplants, which created minimal soil disturbance, and have seen very few new weeds in the past two weeks. I will cover the bare soil of two of these beds with a mulch of newspaper topped with straw. I’m going to leave the third bed for a while to observe the rate of weed emergence.

This method has saved time, reduced soil disturbance, and given me more control over planting. I can also use the weed barrier strips to cover weeds for 2-3 week periods in other parts of my garden and landscape later in the season.

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