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Eliminate Weeds and Enrich Soil
by Vanessa Gardner Nagel, APLD

Who loves weeds?  Not me.  Not you.  Usurpers of hours of time and strangler of small plants, weeds are the bane of my gardening existence.  If you think the situation is hopeless, think again. 

I believe we owe the term ‘lasagna gardening’ to Patricia Lanza’s book, Lasagna Gardening.  While what I do isn’t technically what she describes, I was inspired by lasagna gardening’s ability to eradicate and prevent weeds.  My modified method helps recycle my newspapers, improves the tilth of my soil, and lessens the amount of time I need to weed.  In addition, it prevents the need to use herbicides.  Therefore, it costs less and keeps chemicals out of your soil.  You don’t have to worry what it might do to you during its application or what it will do to pets and children afterwards.  How great is that?

I use this method in several ways.  For example, I use it:

  • around existing plants

  • during the planting of a new area

  • to prepare a new area before planting 

To begin, I cut down existing vegetation that I don’t want to keep.  It’s important to have whatever you don’t want either eliminated or very short to help the newspapers get as much contact with the soil as possible. 

If you are using this method in an area with existing plants that will remain or in an area where you will be planting immediately, it’s important to add compost around the plants and in each planting hole before you layer the newspapers.  Next, install all of your new plants.  Water everything very well.  The ground needs to be quite wet, because after you install the newspapers, they will soak up some of the moisture and may even block some moisture for a while. 

Next look through your newspapers as you gather them.  Only include newspapers printed with soy inks.  Do not use the slick shiny papers – only the newsprint.  You can use cardboard also, but I only use cardboard if I am preparing a new area for eventual planting – not for immediate planting or around existing plants.  It soaks up too much moisture because there is more volume of paper.  However, it is great to use over ground where you are trying to eliminate a thug like ivy or blackberry.

When you lay the newspaper onto the ground, overlap each piece by about six inches.  This helps prevent weeds from snaking through the newspaper and popping up several feet away.  Even if some still show up, they will be easier to pull from looser soil.  Use 4-6 layers of paper.  Too much acts like cardboard.  Too little deteriorates too quickly and does not kill the weeds.  I recommend laying the newspapers on a calm day.  If not you will need some stones or weights to hold the papers down while you continue to lay a sizeable area.  If some of the shapes do not work precisely with the shape of your newspaper, just fold the paper until it works.  Once all of your newspapers are down, gently spray them to saturate them with water.  Even the weight of the water will help to hold the paper in place to some extent.  You can pre-wet newspapers, too.  However, you need to handle them in chunks, because otherwise they fall apart.  I have allowed some newspaper stacks to sit out in the rain in our garden work center.  I use those newspapers as I would use cardboard.

Although there are some lasagna gardeners that say it’s okay to throw pulled weeds on top of the newspaper, I don’t.  Seeds could germinate and the roots might start to grow again once you mulch the top of the newspapers. 

Mulching is the next step.  I use two inches of compost as mulch.  It will help to feed the soil as the worms come up to eat the newspaper.  When the worms pull the newspaper through the soil, they till and aerate the soil for you.  After a winter of allowing an area to sit like this, I came back to the area in the spring.  My heavy clay soil was now wonderful soil!  The length of time your newspapers take to decompose depends on the thickness of newspaper and the nature of your soil at the start.  If your soil already has worms and beneficial microbes, decomposition occurs more quickly.  This is one reason I like using compost, because it enriches the existing soil.

Other benefits of mulching are its appearance and ability to moderate soil temperature.  It keeps the soil cooler during hot spells and warmer on cold nights.  Mulch also prevents the newspaper from flying away or drying out.  Then moisture will go through the newspaper and not run off it.   It will also allow fertilizers to get through to your plants, as long as your papers remain wet.  Wet newspapers are permeable.  However, one of the reasons I like to use compost, is because I tend to use it rather than using fertilizers.  I definitely do not use synthetic fertilizers.  Compost acts as a slow release, gentle, long-lasting fertilizer.  If the compost has everything in it that your plants need, why add anything else?

This method of gardening does not benefit every plant.  There are plants that prefer lean soils, rather than rich soils.  Be sure and research your plants to make sure your new soil will work for them.  This is always a wise idea regardless of the method of improving your soil and eliminating weeds.

If you are used to tilling soil, this method precludes that task.  The worms do it for you.  Besides, if you till your soil you just bring up old weed seed to the light of day.  Presto – more weeds!  Still, once you improve your soil, any weeds that do appear are easier to pull.  If your soil does not seem to be improved adequately after going through this process once, then do it as many times as it takes to improve the soil.  That could be once or twice per year for a couple of years, depending on how poor a soil you have.  I love using this method over about a year’s time to eliminate lawn.  Otherwise, my back would still be killing me!

Eliminate Weeds-1First, clear the weeds.



Eliminate Weeds-2Place newspapers over the cleared soil.

 


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Eliminate Weeds-3Layer compost on top of the newspapers.

   

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