No-till gardening and weed barriers

In a mid-March post, I wrote about the advantages of using heavy-duty weed barrier fabric to smother weeds and create a no-till plant bed. In mid-June, I found myself with two beds that were starting to get weedy. The winter cover crop that had protected the soil was quickly decomposing and crabgrass and broadleaf weeds were emerging.

Rapidly growing weeds are quickly brought under control with weed barrier fabric.

I threw on 3-ft. wide strips of the weed barrier material and after five days of very hot weather all of the vegetation was dead.

Weed-free bed
A weed-free bed ready for the next crop.

A few weeks later I removed the strips. I raked off plant residues from one bed and sowed white clover and alfalfa seeds that I had on hand. In the other bed, I dumped two 5-gallon buckets of compost each on four spots, fluffed and mixed the soil and compost with a garden fork, and planted winter squash. I could have just as easily planted a row of beans, beets, or kale by making a narrow furrow with a hoe or crowbar. Sure, weed seeds will germinate where I disturbed the soil, but few will germinate anywhere else on the two beds.

Rocking and fluffing the soil with a garden fork reduces soil disturbance compared with tilling.
I watched several ground beetles moving in and out of the cracks that formed in the covered soil. The cracks allow water and soil invertebrates, like earthworms, to move through the soil.

A downside is that garden soil is exposed to the elements and erosion until the new crop gets established. Weed barrier fabric in the no-till garden offers flexibility and reliability and can easily be combined with the use of soil-building techniques such as cover crops and organic mulches. I keep it folded and ready for action!


By Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist

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